Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Timberland Co. officials have identified the Portwalk in Portsmouth as a possible place of interest for relocating their corporate headquarters once their lease expires in 2010.

Robin Giampa, director of corporate communications for Timberland, confirmed that the lease for the Stratham headquarters is up in 2010 and that the company is considering various places around the Seacoast, particularly the Portwalk.

The footwear company has been based out of Stratham headquarters since 1994, and Giampa said it is looking for a 160,000-square-foot space for its 600 employees.

Giampa noted that the company expects to make a decision whether to stay or go in the next couple weeks.

Tom Farrelly, executive director for Cushman and Wakefield, is representing Timberland in their search for a new home and said after conducting a thorough study of their needs, it matched them up to a variety of real estate opportunities in New Hampshire and in northern Massachusetts. "Though there were a lot of attractive opportunities in northern Massachusetts, Timberland decided their heritage as a New Hampshire company should be kept intact," he said.

Having looked at properties as far away as Nashua and Merrimack, Farrelly said they most recently began to focus in on the Seacoast, particularly in Portsmouth and Hampton.

"Timberland has a very unique corporate culture, with a particular emphasis on people and the environment and we are placing high value on those factors as we consider different locations," said Farrelly.

Farrelly added that the Portwalk possesses some unique sustainable aspects that make it even more attractive, especially since it's intended to be given a LEED silver certification.

Jeff Johnston, principal for Boston-based Cathartes Private Investments, said Timberland is a "terrific company" that is not only familiar with the Seacoast but knows Portsmouth very well.

"Timberland's values align well with Portwalk's as well with City of Portsmouth," said Johnston.

In addition to trying to build an underground parking garage and install bike racks, Johnston considers all of their sustainable aspirations to be right in line with Timberland's vision"I think it would be a great boost to the downtown," he added.

In tough times, big development deals hard to find

By Todd Wallack
Globe Staff / January 26, 2009

Massachusetts is no longer in the hunt for a major economic development deal, code-named Project Sunshine, and another one, Project Blue Moon, is on hold, according to the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development.

Massachusetts, like other states, regularly vies for major economic development projects, many of which are identified only by code names until they come to fruition. The odds against closing such deals are high. For example:

Project Sunshine: A solar-panel company was seeking 40 to 50 acres for a plant with up to 1,000 workers, but the state is no longer in the running for the development.

Project Blue Moon: A large high-tech manufacturer is considering building in Bedford or Burlington, creating about 2,000 jobs. The company has delayed its plans because of the recession.

Project Sunshine involved an unnamed solar-panel company that last year was scouting for 40 to 50 acres and promised to create as many as 1,000 jobs. Massachusetts didn't make the company's short list of sites, said Doug Kehlhem, director of corporate site location for the nonprofit group, which works with the state to help companies expand or relocate here.

Project Blue Moon refers to a large high-tech manufacturer that was considering building a headquarters and development center that would employ more than 2,000 people in Bedford or Burlington. Kehlhem said the company has delayed its expansion plans "due to market conditions," referring to the global recession that has forced businesses to delay or cancel expansion projects.

"They have yet decide" on where to expand, Kofi Jones, a spokeswoman for the Patrick administration, said of Project Blue Moon.

Many companies that are considering new locations work through intermediaries, called site-selection consultants, who conceal their clients' identities by using code names. In other cases, state economic officials assign code names directly to protect the firms' anonymity until a deal is closed.

At least two other major projects, Project Boss and Project Visa, won't be coming to Massachusetts, either, according to the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development's 2008 annual report.

As part of Project Boss, a site-location consultant was scouting land for a large drug manufacturing plant that would have employed up to 1,500 people. Project Visa involved a smaller biopharmaceutical plant with 450 employees. In both cases, Kehlhem said, Massachusetts didn't make the short list of places the companies were considering.

Despite the setbacks, the state remains in the running for many other potential new plants and offices, including Project Monarch - a solar energy company that's looking to develop a site of at least 40 acres - according to the agency. The group said it submitted eight possible sites to the consultants and is waiting to learn if Massachusetts is a finalist. The Globe recently reported that two unnamed life sciences companies are also considering locating biotech manufacturing plants in Massachusetts.

Jones said the state's "project pipeline" currently has the potential to create 24,000 jobs and retain 37,000 more, and includes about $7 billion in potential private investments.

But Kehlhem noted last week that the odds against landing a large business deal are high.
Most national searches for sites do not result in a deal for Massachusetts because companies decide to go elsewhere or put the project on hold, he said - something that's true of searches in other states, as well.

Kehlhem added that Massachusetts would be fortunate to land one or two out of every 20 potential major deals, each of which could create hundreds or thousands of jobs.

Mark Pothier of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Todd Wallack can be reached at

Wanted: World-class nickname for Toronto

For this city to market itself globally, it needs to find an identity that is easily understood
Jan 25, 2009 04:30 AM

Comments on this story (247) John Spears URBAN AFFAIRS REPORTER

Paul Sutherland still remembers the day back in the early '90s when Galen Weston approached North York politicians about his idea of relocating United Nations headquarters to the northeast corner of Yonge St. and Highway 401.

It's the kind of big, almost outrageous idea that Sutherland, a former North York councillor, says Toronto needs to consider in rejuvenating its economy.

Sutherland's was one of the more provocative thoughts voiced as Invest Toronto, the city's fledgling investment attraction agency, canvassed more than 100 business, academic, labour and community leaders across the city this week about how to promote jobs, investment and excitement in Toronto.

Invest Toronto and its sister agency, Build Toronto, were created by splitting up the city's former development agency, the Toronto Economic Development Corp. Build Toronto's job will be to develop city-owned property. More here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

City multi-pronged marketing campaign in full swing


While marketing one’s own city to investors and job seekers is always important, it becomes especially vital in an economic slowdown.

To that end, the city of Grande Prairie’s multi-pronged marketing campaign is in full swing and, according to Jean-Marc Lacasse, manager of the city’s Economic Development department, still yielding positive results despite the slowdown.

“All I know is my phone is still ringing and my e-mail is still being used a lot. There has been no slowdown in inquiries,” Lacasse said. “I’m impressed that people’s knowledge of this area is very sound. They understand it is very resource-based with energy and forestry and they understand that perhaps things have slowed down but they also see a bright future. So that’s why the inquiries are still there.”

The focus of the city’s marketing plan is to rank high on search engines especially those that will request investor information. The city uses a variety of online strategies, including ads, postcards, Facebook, and websites such as and its French sister to market the city to people across the country.

“These are very basic websites with a few pages and those websites redirect traffic after two or three clicks within the appropriate section of our own website,” Lacasse said.

“If we have an ad in a (newspaper) for a job fair, and it says to come and have a job in Grande Prairie, we’ll get within a day 100 hits, which is very good because they’re what we call qualified hits. They actually stay on the website, they get the information and we know for a fact, that people have relocated and found jobs in Grande Prairie with these marketing initiatives.” More here.

Sports Mania Is a Poor Substitute for Economic Success


Tomorrow the Pittsburgh Steelers square off against the Baltimore Ravens, and the Philadelphia Eagles square off against the Arizona Cardinals. The winners will go head to head on Feb. 1 in Super Bowl XLIII.

If there ever was a time to crow about the wonders of rebuilding a city around a professional sports team, this would be it. Three of the four teams remaining in the play-offs hail from cities -- Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- that in recent years spent billions rebuilding their downtowns around pro sports facilities and other community "anchors."

Except that there's a problem. The teams might be competitive, but the cities definitely are not. All three continue to shrink in population, and have stagnant job markets and crumbling public schools.

Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were prototypes of the economic development fad of the 1990s: government-financed "investments" in economic development. They all practiced what was called "tin cup urbanism" -- the belief that the rest of society owed large taxpayer transfers to the urban cores from which most of us have fled. They all supped from the same cup: center city stadia, aquaria and subsidized retailia.

Philadelphia practiced "the core, the core, the core" as a development strategy while perfecting the art of the tin cup under the guidance of then Mayor (now Gov.) Ed Rendell in the late 1990s. The feeling in Philadelphia was that the city was being crushed by economic forces outside of its control, and that the country owes cities, owes them big, and should pay up. More here.

Global footprint for the Richmond area

Published: January 19, 2009

The economy of the Richmond area is so closely linked to the global market that even baking bread can be an international affair.

In late 2007, the Austrian company Backaldrin International GmbH opened a sales and distribution office on Northlake Park Drive in Hanover County.

The 10,400-square-foot site is the base for the company to distribute 35 types of bread mixes, which it imports from its Austrian operations and sells to bakeries from Canada to South America.

"We sell to everybody who makes bread, from the small bakeries to the big industries," said Eberhard Roos, president of Backaldrin USA.

The company decided in 2007 to open its first U.S. operation in the Richmond area to try to build its niche in the market for specialty breads in the U.S.

"The American people are getting more and more health-conscious, and that is exactly the product we have," said Roos, who predicts 50 percent to 60 percent sales growth in North America in 2009 from its first year. In addition to distribution, the plant has a kitchen where the company demonstrates to potential customers how to bake its bread mixes.

Backaldrin is just one of the latest foreign-based firms to open operations in the Richmond area, which has long been home to many international firms. Even as the economy has slowed, interest among international firms in opening operations here has remained fairly stable, some economic-development officials say.

Since 2003, the Richmond area has seen 37 expansions or openings by foreign-affiliated companies. They amounted to about $1.9 billion in investments and created about 3,500 jobs, according to Virginia Economic Development Partnership records.

The foreign-company investments represent a little more than 40 percent of the total $4.6 billion worth of announced investments and 19,715 jobs created in the Richmond region by new or expanding businesses since 2003, according to Economic Development Partnership records. More here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Recruiter Seeks Business Prospects in Texas

(Source: High Point Enterprise)
By Paul B. Johnson, High Point Enterprise, N.C.

Jan. 14--RANDOLPH COUNTY -- Economic recruiter Bonnie Renfro hopes her trip halfway across the country this week will produce future dividends for people seeking a paycheck in the Triad.

Renfro, president of the Randolph County Economic Development Corp., will visit parts of Texas as part of a recruitment trip by the Piedmont Triad Partnership. Other representatives on the marketing trip include Heather Sauls, the Piedmont Triad Partnership's vice president for client development, and Wade Taylor, vice president of the Rockingham County Partnership.

Regional economic recruiters are trying to lure new companies and convince existing ones to expand in the Triad to counter growing unemployment. Davidson County's jobless rate of 9.3 percent in November was an 18-year high, while Randolph County's rate of 8.3 percent is the highest county level in 26 years.

The city of High Point jobless rate spiked to 8.3 percent in November, the highest level in five and a half years. November is the latest month that the N.C. Employment Security Commission has calculated and released local unemployment figures.

Many economic development projects that come to fruition in the region blossomed from meetings such as the ones taking place this week on the marketing trip, Renfro said.

"This trip, along with other marketing trips, keeps the region in front of site-selection consultants," she said Tuesday.

The Triad recruiters are scheduled to meet with six firms while in Dallas. The trip is a continuation of the Piedmont Triad Partnership's program to touch base with advisers to businesses on expansions and relocations.

"We receive approximately 30 percent of our new projects from national consultants and real estate brokers. Projects led by consultants tend to be larger in terms of employment and investment," said Don Kirkman, president of the Piedmont Triad Partnership.

Many of the advisory groups with offices in the Dallas area serve clients with business interests that include the southeastern United States, Kirkman said.

Evaluating the Alliance

By Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel

The numbers seem impressive: 203 projects, $792 million in investment, 16,606 jobs retained and another 7,415 created for a total payroll of $964 million.

But those numbers have not translated into higher incomes for Allen County residents when compared to state and national averages. Just the opposite, in fact.

So the question naturally arises: Eight years after the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance was created, how has the organization charged with keeping and attracting jobs performed its own?

“We were designed to be an umbrella agency, and it has worked as designed,” said President Rob Young, referring to the consolidation of previously redundant and sometimes competitive economic development efforts.

Created in October 2000 with $200,000 each from Fort Wayne, Allen County and the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance’s primary role is to serve as the community’s chief contact with existing and prospective employers, providing information as needed. Young and other Alliance officials were fulfilling that role one recent cold morning, inspecting a vacant warehouse and shipping facility on Nelson Road in New Haven after a company inquired about the availability of similar facilities.

The Alliance can’t directly offer incentives, however. That’s left to city, county and state governments, with the Alliance serving as a bridge between the private and public sectors. Local officials apparently believe the relationship is working, with the Allen County Commissioners having renewed that support again this year, and City Council is expected to do the same this month.

The Chamber continues to support the Alliance as well. Since its inception, the Alliance’s budget has increased from $600,000 to $1.4 million, thanks to another $75,000 from the city and support from the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority, DeKalb County, foundations and other sources. City and county incentive specialists spend time at the Alliance’s downtown office to improve the lines of communication.

“We needed to be more aggressive and less fragmented and make sure we have a common goal. Competition (for jobs) has increased in the last eight years, so we need the Alliance all the more,” Chamber President Kristine Foate said. More here.

Economic Development Agencies From Canada's Large Cities Promote Cooperation and Collaboration to Attract Foreign Investment and Trade

OTTAWA - Economic development executives from across the country are meeting in Ottawa today to work together with invited federal government departments and agencies on a unified business attraction strategy that recognizes the dominant role of urban economies. According to members of the Canada International Work Group, Canada's largest cities represent more than 50% of Canada's economic activity. The focus for the Ottawa meeting -- the third by Canada's large cities in the past 20 months -- will be international trade and investment.

Economic development agencies participating in today's meeting include the Greater Halifax Partnership, Québec City Region (PQCA), Montréal International, OCRI (Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation), the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance, Canada's Technology Triangle Inc. (Waterloo Region), Destination Winnipeg Inc., Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority, Edmonton Economic Development Corp., Calgary Economic Development, and the Vancouver Economic Development Commission.

"When it comes to attracting investment from Sovereign Wealth Funds in Asia or the Arab world, or multi-national companies, Canada's cities have much more to gain from banding together than competing against each other for growth opportunities," said Michael Darch, Executive Director, OCRI Global Marketing (Ottawa). "The economic development agencies of Canada's large cities are also ideally positioned to identify high-return projects for new Federal stimulus programs."

"Large cities play an increasingly important role in today's global economy," added André Gamache, President and CEO of Montréal International. "I have been encouraged by the commitment of my peers to work together to tackle Canada's challenges in sustainable economic development. We must turn accolades, such as comments on the strength of our financial system, into revenue, investment and jobs."

The economic development executives will take advantage of their meeting's Ottawa location to hold information exchanges with various Federal economic organizations including Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), Export Development Canada (EDC) and Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).

While the Geneva-based World Economic Forum declared last year that Canada's banking system ranks as the soundest in the world, Canada's large cities can't rest on these laurels. A Dec. 2008 report from CIBC World Markets showed the economic momentum of Canada's cities has been softening for more than two years. Half of the decline since 2006 occurred in the last year, according to the CIBC World Markets Metro Monitor Report.

Thousand Oaks delays decision on city branding contract

A contract with a Nashville-based company to develop a branding project for the city of Thousand Oaks was set aside for 60 days by the City Council at its meeting Tuesday night.

The council voted 5-0 to delay a decision on an $89,000 contract with North Star Destination Strategies and instead approved the creation of a committee, comprised of council Members Andy Fox and Jacqui Irwin, to further study the issue.

“I think our challenge here is more process than concept,” Fox said, adding the city was able to afford the project.

Councilwoman Claudia Bill-de la Peña questioned the timing of the project, which has been brought up periodically over the years.

“I do realize that an identity and branding project would help the city, but I don’t see a pressing need,” she said.

Gary Wartik, the city’s economic development director, said that in the current recession the city is competing with other municipalities to attract businesses. He described Thousand Oaks’ recruiting materials when compared to another city in the county as “third rate.”

“I see this as an investment in our city,” Wartik said.

Several residents who spoke on the issue criticized the process.

Speaking on behalf of the Central Thousand Oaks Homeowners Association, Suzanne Duckett, said the organization was not happy the city was considering using an out-of-state firm for the job.

“If you want us all to shop locally, you all should shop locally,” Duckett said.

Another resident said she appreciated the idea of a cohesive design and image but likened the project to the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes and suggested the work be done locally.

“Why all the research,” she asked. “We live here, we know it. It is a big mistake to throw our money elsewhere.”

The city went through a formal proposal process and received 12 responses, eight of them from companies in the region. From the five finalists, a panel of eight city staff members unanimously selected North Star, the city’s Public Information Officer Andrew Powers said.

The purpose of developing a brand for the city is to provide a unifying image for an organization that has 11 departments.

Monday, January 12, 2009

EDC turns focus to smaller firms

January 9, 2009 - 9:30 PM


A lot of people are looking for work these days, but they might not want Mike Kazmierski's job.

As president of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., Kazmierski heads an organization that's trying to add jobs in the community at a time when employers nationwide are slashing payrolls.

In addition, reduced revenues last year left the nonprofit EDC with a $120,000 shortfall in its $1.5 million budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30; the organization tapped its reserves to make up the difference.

"I would call it challenging," Kazmierski, the EDC's president since 2005, said in a carefully measured response when asked how tough his job has become.

For the last few years, the EDC has targeted small companies with large upsides - businesses that hold the promise of delivering more and high-paying jobs to Colorado Springs as they grow.

The EDC also has paid closer attention to the needs of local employers and gone after California companies looking to relocate or expand.

Those strategies, however, were put in place during better economic times. Today, as businesses nationwide jettison jobs and cut expenses, and as local residents wonder whether there will be work for them if they get laid off, should the EDC stay the course or consider new tactics?

The EDC might do both in 2009, Kazmierski said.

Growth-oriented companies will remain targets, although the EDC won't look past larger employers that might consider the Springs, he said. Two companies with the potential of bringing more than 1,000 jobs each are currently looking at the Springs, said Kazmierski, who declined to identify them. Their salaries would be well above minimum wage, although wouldn't necessarily be considered high paying; still, they'd be jobs with full benefits packages, he said. More here.

Long-term economic plan released by governor

By Rob Moritz, Arkansas News bureau

LITTLE ROCK - Gov. Mike Beebe calls for regional collaboration and cooperation to carry the state through tough times in his long-term economic plan released Friday.

“A slower economy will not slow our strategies for economic development,” Beebe said. “Pushing forward with this plan now not only builds our current advantages, but will also put our efforts at full speed once the current recession lifts.”

Implementing the plan will “lead to progress in workforce development infrastructure, business development, competitive business climate and collaborative partnerships,” the governor said.

The plan was released by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission in advance of Monday’s start of the 87th General Assembly. Legislators face a slowing economy and a $4.5 billion budget that includes $146 million in unfunded appropriations.

One of the governor’s requests in the budget is another $50 million to replenish his Quick Action Closing Fund, which was approved during the 2007 session. The fund has been used to grant incentives to new businesses, including $2 million to Cooper Tire Co. to keep its Texarkana plant open and $3 million to Caterpillar Inc. to open a new road grader plant in North Little Rock.

Beebe said last week all the money in the fund has been either spent or obligated.

The governor’s economic plan calls for the private sector to work with public agencies to help move Arkansas to a state focused on knowledge-based job growth. The plan puts education as the key to economic success.

The plan includes five principles designed to create more income growth opportunities in the state:
  • Increase at or above the national average the income growth of Arkansans.
  • Expand knowledge-based businesses.
  • Improve how the state competes in the global marketplace for jobs and create a business retention strategy to reduce closures.
  • Use the assets of the state’s various regions when promoting economic development.
  • Increase the number of workers with advanced training so they are prepared when they enter the workforce.

AEDC Director Maria Haley said work on the plan began in mid-2007 and those involved in economic development in both the public and private sector were consulted.

“Our goal was to develop a comprehensive, living strategic plan that would create the road map for our state’s future development,” she said.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Top Ten Things I'd Do in Every Town

by Jack Schultz, CEO of Boomtown Institute and Agracel Inc.

Community Foundation - A Community Foundation allows a community, whether it be a single town, county or even a region, to marshal small donations and funds into the efficiency of a large foundation, altering the fabric of that community for the long term. Indiana has been the leader in setting these up in every one of their counties, because of the leadership of the Lilly Foundation.

Brain Bank - Many of our small towns have seen a tremendous brain drain of their best and brightest. However, that drain could be converted into a tremendous asset and several towns have started to cultivate those ex-residents into ambassadors for their communities. North Dakota is doing it in a state-wide initiative.

Entrepreneurial Education - The new paradigm in economic development is to cultivate your own entrepreneurs. Just as the best high school sports teams start to develop their talent in grade school, those towns that want to be part of the new economy are developing entrepreneurial educational initiatives into their high schools and grade schools. Generation E Institute in Battle Creek, MI, is the best that I’ve seen.

Young Professional Organizations - Gen X and Gen Y needs to be nurtured. They are the leaders of the future and those leadership skills need to be developed now. The best I’ve seen are YBIowa in Iowa and YBNext in my hometown of Effingham, IL.

Arts - Quality of life issues are going to be more important in the decision of where to live and develop a career. Baby boomers went to where the jobs were. Gen X & Y young people are more focused upon quality of life for that decision. All arts are becoming more important for them in that decision. Make it easy for them to choose your town by emphasizing your art assets. Paducah, KY has done it best.

Tourism - Find the inexpensive ways to promote visits to your town. Use videos on your cable system, motel keys with info and very inexpensive ezines to let people know why they should come, visit and stay.

Downtowns - They are going through resurgence with the upstairs being fixed up into apartments and condos. Having people living in the downtown area encourages more restaurants, bars, coffee shops, etc. That in turn encourages more to live downtown and the cycle continues upward. Oxford, MS is the best I’ve seen.

Mentoring - Two models stick out for me. One that I saw in Carroll, IA has developed a mentoring program for their college students, pairing them up with local jobs and CEOs during the summer. The other is aimed toward at-risk grade schoolers, putting local volunteers in one-on-one mentoring. We’re up to 130 mentors in my home town of Effingham, Illinois.

Downtown Signs - You can’t have enough signs that show visitors how to get to your downtown. If they can’t find it, how are they going to shop there? Jackson, MI has the best I’ve seen. From every direction signs route visitors to the downtown area.

Angel Investor Network - Local banks can help to provide most of the start-up funds for new businesses, but having an angel investor network provide the equity to help get the new entrepreneurs into operation.

Grand Rapids looks to diversify into health care, life sciences


GRAND RAPIDS -- In a state grasping for answers about its future, Michigan's second-largest city may provide some important clues. Along a hilly stretch of downtown Grand Rapids dubbed the Medical Mile, a new economic engine is gradually taking shape.

The noise of moving backhoes and cranes lifting giant steel beams fills the air as construction workers scramble to finish a 14-story children's hospital and expand a biomedical research institute.

Further up the hill sits a $92-million, six-story outpatient cancer center that opened in June. It offers good views of the $90-million Grand Rapids campus for Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine being built at the bottom of the hill.

This and other construction activity, which altogether represents an investment of more than $1 billion, is part of a bold bet made by the city's business and economic development leaders more than a decade ago.

Like dozens of other communities around the nation, Grand Rapids leaders dreamed of transforming their city into a regional health care destination and a hub for life-sciences companies. Unlike many other places, however, Grand Rapids is actually trying to do it.

The initiative isn't without risk, and the results won't be known for some time. But how the city fares in this effort could provide important lessons for other areas in the state such as Oakland County and Ann Arbor that are also seeking to build a bigger presence in health care and the life sciences. More here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sunny trip south woos site experts

Friday, January 09, 2009
Times Business Writer
Riley, state officials hope to lure more plants, jobs

Gov. Bob Riley and state economic development officials are spending the weekend on the Mexican coast.

But this is a business trip.

No, seriously.

The state and four co-sponsors are hosting the Alabama International Business Conference in Puerto Vallarta for 25 site consultants. Those are the real estate professionals who help corporate giants such as ThyssenKrupp (Mobile area), National Steel Car (Shoals area) and Volkswagen (Chattanooga) pick the location for a new plant or office complex or research facility.

The consultants were carefully selected, said Neal Wade, director of the Alabama Development Office. He noted that all 25 have either helped steer projects to Alabama in the past or are representing clients considering the state for a new project.

"When times get tough, we've found that the first thing a lot of companies and states do is cut out marketing and advertising, and we believe that's a big mistake," Neal said. "Especially in this economic environment, we want to stay front and center with site consultants. They really control where these companies go."

The cost of the trip - Wade estimated the price tag at $100,000 - is being underwritten by ADO, Alabama Power, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, the PowerSouth Energy Cooperative and the North Alabama Industrial Development Association in conjunction with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Wade said the co-sponsors make the event a bargain for taxpayers, noting that the state could not justify picking up the entire tab.

Besides Riley and Wade, the state contingent includes Alabama House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia; Finance Director Jim Main; and Alabama Industrial Development Training Director Ed Castile.

Guest speakers include Leslie Schweitzer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Dick Morris, a former adviser to President Clinton and now a Fox News contributor.

Wade said Riley will be there for the entire event, which began Wednesday, giving the consultants a chance to interact with the governor in a variety of business and social settings.

"That," he said, "is invaluable."

Asked about the state's economic development pipeline, Wade conceded that "it's not as good as a year ago" but quickly added: "We're still seeing a number of good-size projects. ... We're a finalist for at least one major project."

He declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality agreements.

Wade also stressed that the state continues to "push very hard" for companies in northeast Alabama to land supplier contracts for the VW plant in Chattanooga. Wade led a group of state and regional economic development officials to Germany in the fall for a VW supplier conference, then he and Main returned to Europe last month for follow-up visits.

"We'll be back in Europe this spring as VW identifies who its suppliers will be," he said. "Once that happens, we'll kick into high gear."