Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Committee focuses on marketing Chelmsford

By Chloe Gotsis/ staff writer
GateHouse News Service

Chelmsford — There’s a lot to like about Lowell, everyone loves New York and what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but what about Chelmsford?

A catchy slogan can help boost a town’s visibility and attract visitors and new businesses and it’s just what the town’s Economic Development Committee is looking to do for Chelmsford. Creating a slogan is part of a larger effort by the committee to brand the town and make it more attractive to businesses.

After disbanding in the mid-1990s, a new seven-member Economic Development Committee started up this fall with the goal of creating a brand for the town and marketing Chelmsford as a destination place for local and large businesses alike.

With four of this year’s Boston Globe 100 businesses located in Chelmsford and Money Magazine naming the town one of the best places to live in America in 2007, the committee is realizing it has a lot of selling points already.

“The great thing about Chelmsford is there was only one town in the whole state to have four companies on the Globe 100 list. That town was Chelmsford,” said committee Chairman Mike Kowalyk, at the committee’s second meeting Dec. 15. “We are already making it work day in and day out." More here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fresno, Calif., rebrands itself but shuns labels

By Valerie Gibbons, USA TODAY

FRESNO — The hit animated comedy movie Monsters vs. Aliens this spring featured a husband trying to convince his wife that moving to Fresno was better than moving to Paris. The conversation was a running joke throughout the film.

This fall, a Toyota Prius ad, which aired briefly before being pulled after vigorous complaints from the city, showed two people in a Prius in a future where "gas stations will become nothing more than low-budget tourist stops. Like ghost towns ... or Fresno."

For decades, Fresno has been a punch line, a city maligned on the national stage for everything from its smog and crime, to its hot weather and reputation as a bastion of the un-hip.

The city is fighting back, starting with a $1.2 million marketing campaign with the slogan: "Be World-Class. Be Fresno."

The campaign, in part a response to the down economy that made promoting the city more important than ever, is geared toward creating a brand identity for the city for both business travelers and tourists, touting its proximity to national parks and its small-town atmosphere, says Jeff Eben, president of the Fresno City and County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We're not telling our own story," he said. "We need to go fight." More here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Group pulls counties together to sing Valley's praises to the world

December 15, 2009 7:47 PM
By STEVE CLARK, The Brownsville Herald

It’s easier said than done for longtime rivals to put aside their differences and join forces for the larger good, but that’s exactly what the Rio South Texas Economic Council is attempting to do, all in the name of job creation.

Nonprofit Rio South was formed last year to get the economic interests of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties in sync as a way of raising all ships. It started when County Judge J.D. Salinas III and other Hidalgo County officials wanted to expand the Greater McAllen Alliance, an economic development group. Bill Martin, CEO of the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation, overheard a conversation to that effect and decided he wanted in. Today Martin is Rio South’s chairman as well as HEDC chief.

"We’re trying to broaden our horizons," he says. "We realized we actually will get farther by working together than we would working separately."

Rio South’s purpose is to market the Valley nationwide to large corporations that are searching for new sites, and to the consultants those corporations hire to scout sites for them. Population density is usually a deciding factor in where a company locates its operations, which means the Valley is often overlooked.

"We feel that sometimes, perhaps we get eliminated because none of our individual towns are large," Martin says. "But if you look at what’s going on in our region we’re at 2.3 million people, so we’re a large metropolitan area. In fact, our research indicates that we’re the 23rd largest metropolitan area in the United States and the third largest in Texas. We’re just trying to get on the radar screen of these site location consultants and major corporations that are looking for new locations." More here.

Group seeks use for closed tire plant in Opelika

By Michael Tomberlin -- The Birmingham News
December 09, 2009, 5:40AM

BFGoodrich's decision to close a 1.6 million-square-foot tire plant in Opelika with 1,000 jobs threatens to leave tread marks on one of the state's most dynamic local economies.

Now, Birmingham's EGS Commercial Real Estate Inc. is part of a team that includes economic development officials and Auburn University trying to find a solution that prevents a skid there.

The closing of the massive BFGoodrich plant in Opelika has prompted an immediate effort to find a new use for the facility.

"What impacts us more than anything is not necessarily having that building on the market, but we lost 1,000 jobs," said Al Cook, director of economic development for the city of Opelika. "That was probably 25 percent of our manufacturing work force. They were 25 percent of the entire budget for Auburn-Opelika United Way."

Michelin, owner of BFGoodrich, closed the tire plant in October, ending 46 years of production there. But officials in Lee County are not hanging their heads over the plant's demise; instead, they have sprung into action.

The same consulting firm that steered the $4.5 billion ThyssenKrupp steel plant to Mobile County has been working with Opelika officials to prepare for the loss of BFGoodrich, Cook said.

A task force has been formed with representatives from the tire company, labor groups, county and city officials, the business community and Auburn University.

"Everybody who can have an impact or is impacted by the closing is on board," Cook said.

EGS is on board to market the property, along with Cushman & Wakefield and global real estate firm Grubb & Ellis. The building and its 369 acres have an asking price of $11.5 million.

"The reason we want to be involved in this building is that it's the biggest available industrial building in Alabama, to our knowledge," said Mark Byers, head of industrial real estate for EGS. "We felt with our depth of brokerage and economic development experience, we could do more for this building that simply put a for sale sign out in front." Typically, the buyer of a building so vast ends up razing all or part of it to erect something new in its place. Byers, however said the scale of the BFGoodrich plant and its location could make it appealing for other industrial companies.

EGS is highlighting is the plant's proximity to major auto plants -- Kia across the state line in Georgia, Hyundai in Montgomery, Honda in Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz in Vance. More here.

JPMorgan's move to Sprint Nextel campus frustrates KC leaders

The Kansas City Star

JPMorgan Retirement Plan Services is leaving south Kansas City and moving to Overland Park in 2011, taking 800 jobs to the Sprint Nextel campus.

The decision is another cross-border blow to Kansas City.

In October, the Kansas City Wizards and Cerner Corp. shifted to western Wyandotte County a soccer stadium and office development proposed for the former Bannister Mall.

A final deal with Kansas development officials is expected soon for the $414 million project at Village West, which would include 4,500 new Cerner jobs.

The JPMorgan relocation announced Tuesday will take with it a prestige company and the earnings tax paid by its employees. Kansas officials praised the move, but Missourians were disappointed and saw it as a setback for downtown. JPMorgan had been considering a location in the Town Pavilion.

“Missouri needs to step up its incentive programs,” said Jeff Kaczmarek, president and CEO of the Kansas City Economic Development Corp. “We are in danger on the western frontier … look at all the deals going across the river.” More here.

Tech report charts path for Arizona

by Andrew Johnson - Dec. 16, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

A lack of skilled labor, a meager pool of local investment capital and disjointed economic-development strategies are hindering growth in Arizona's technology sector, a study released Tuesday says.

But state leaders can build on strong resources already here, including universities, federal research funding and business startups, by fostering collaboration among stakeholders, according to the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based research think tank.

Its report "Charting a Course for Arizona's Technology-Based Economic Development" compares Arizona's performance on tech indexes with peer states, including Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah.

The housing crash and resulting economic crisis highlighted Arizona's reliance on the real-estate industry for job growth. The state has lost almost 265,000 jobs since the recession started in December 2007.

The report offers five recommendations, many of which already are being addressed:

• Developing a deeper pool of skilled, educated workers.

The state does not develop or retain enough skilled technicians, scientists and engineers to meet the demands of local employers, the report said.

It suggests matching engineering and science graduates with local employers, especially at smaller firms, so that companies can identify the workers they need within the state. More here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Myrtle Beach business leaders seek Boeing suppliers

By A.J. Ross - bio | email

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Members of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (MBREDC) say they are executing a heavy marketing campaign in an effort to attract Boeing suppliers and other aircraft manufacturers to the Myrtle Beach International Technology & Aerospace Park.

The aerospace park is situated on more than 400 acres of land between Myrtle Beach International Airport and the Market Common.

Jimmy Yahnis, board chairman for the MBREDC, says the marketing blitz encompasses everything from emails and e-blasts to colorful brochures showcasing the Grand Strand. Yahnis says several members of the MBREDC have also been nurturing relationships with Boeing suppliers in an effort to secure a future relationship with the company.

Bill Britton, the business development director for the MBREDC, says the new aerospace park is a diamond in the rough.

"The same reasons tourists come here, we think a lot of companies will come here," Britton said. "Our lifestyle, our environment, our workforce is wonderful here."

Yahnis says another big selling point to potential businesses is the 9,500-foot runway that is easily accessible at MYR.

"Due to the availability of land adjacent to a runway that can handle virtually every type of aircraft, there is a great opportunity here," he said.

Yahnis and Britton say they cannot disclose the names of the companies that have been interested in the new business park. But they say they expect construction to begin on roads and utilities on the property next year.

Copyright 2009 WMBF News. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The fight is on to keep the area’s manufacturers

Officials hope to tilt New Era’s choice in Derby’s favor

By Matt Glynn
News Business Reporter
Updated: December 12, 2009, 10:21 PM /

New Era Cap Co. is poised to make an important decision about its manufacturing operations.

The Buffalo-based hat and apparel maker will choose between its plant in Derby or one in Demopolis, Ala., as it consolidates its U.S. production into one site.

The threat of losing another manufacturer to lower-cost Southern locations is nothing new to the Buffalo Niagara region. Through October, the region was averaging 54,580 manufacturing jobs this year, down 35 percent from 15 years ago, according to state Labor Department statistics.

But economic development officials and local leaders say manufacturing remains a source of strength for the region and retaining jobs in that sector is a priority. New Era’s case has the added significance of a homegrown company with nearly a century of history.

“It’s very important for our economy that we keep our jobs here,” said Evans Town Supervisor Fran Pordum. “We’re talking about a well-respected and known brand throughout the world.”

Although a relatively small company, New Era brings a sense of pride and prestige to Buffalo Niagara. It makes all the hats used by Major League Baseball teams and their minor- league affiliates, and its logo shows up during televised games in many MLB teams’ dugouts. It also produces a variety of hats for colleges and universities, and for celebrities like Spike Lee.

The issue at the forefront for New Era today is something vital if less glamorous: the future of its U.S. jobs and manufacturing.

Examples abound of Buffalo-area manufacturing jobs that have vanished, either through cutbacks or closings. General Motors’ Town of Tonawanda engine plant has sharply reduced its work force in recent years. Contintental Automotive Systems is finishing a three-year phaseout in Elma. In Perry, jobs at American Classic Outfitters are at risk over Adidas’ decision to move production of NBA game-day jerseys to Thailand.

Nallan Suresh, a University at Buffalo professor who tracks manufacturing, said Buffalo Niagara’s manufacturing infrastructure and skilled work force are two factors in favor of New Era keeping the Derby plant open.

Suresh has provided workshop training in the past to New Era, and has taken his students to visit the plant in Derby. While he doesn’t have inside knowledge of New Era’s plans, he said he feels Derby has the upper hand. And he says he’s not just being loyal to the area in saying so. “I think it makes good business sense as well,” said Suresh, who is professor and chairman of operations management and strategy at UB’s School of Management.

New Era’s plan to close one plant also has stirred concerns in Alabama, with a significant number of jobs at stake there. And officials in Western New York and Alabama are talking up the importance of maintaining those positions.

The Derby plant has 334 employees and the Demopolis site has 355. Both figures include workers who are on layoff due to volume reductions.

To outside observers, the Derby plant would seem to have an edge, with the company’s hometown roots and the corporate headquarters only 20 miles away. But company spokesman Paul Gallagher said the company wants to make the “best business decision” and does not plan to announce its choice until mid-February to early March 2010.

New Era has already decided to close a plant in Jackson, Ala., in early 2010, as part of a plan to cut its number of U.S. plants from three to one. It will also close a distribution center in Mobile, Ala., in the second quarter.

New Era officials met last week with Communications Workers of America union representatives in Demopolis, and the company plans to meet with CWA representatives in Derby this week, said Dave Palmer, the union’s director for Upstate New York and New England.

The Teamsters represents workers at the two Alabama facilities that will be closed, and the company and union have agreed on the benefits workers will receive after they lose their jobs.

Gallagher said New Era is considering a host of factors in choosing between the Derby and Demopolis plants, including productivity, efficiency and seniority. The company says it is cutting back because its level of consumer demand can no longer support three production plants. More here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tap Into Erie looks to trade on region's abundant water

Erie wants to use its most abundant resource to attract companies, create jobs


Lake Erie is a giant game changer -- capable of luring tourists to its sunny shores or burying us with lake-effect snow.

Now, some wonder if it might prove to be a magnet that could bring jobs to the region.

The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership is betting on it with Tap Into Erie, a new initiative that's looking for ways to use the region's abundant water supply to attract companies that depend on water.

The idea grew out of a need for the region to set itself apart, said Jake Rouch, vice president of economic development for the chamber.

Rouch, whose group continues to focus the majority of its budget and time on business retention, said he recognized that the region's budget for business attraction didn't stack up against other communities that would be competing for the same jobs.

Every town in the country, it seems, has a slick brochure and the promise of a good life and able workers. And most of those places stand ready to serve up a cocktail of tax breaks and low-interest loans.

A study by a local consultant confirmed what some might have expected. Erie is close to major population centers and has top-notch health care and abundant higher education opportunities.

But so did a lot of other places.

Water -- enough to satisfy the most demanding user -- was what made Erie unique. More here.

JIM MARTIN can be reached at 870-1668 or by e-mail.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Corporate Site Selection R.I.P.? No — But There's A Twist

by Rob DeRocker

First the good news about corporate site selection: The Great Recession has neither killed it nor put it on life support. Two years after the official start of the longest and most geographically comprehensive economic downturn since the 1930s, many if not all location advisors claim to be busy. Some say their levels of activity are more intense than ever, as they log eight-hour conference calls and enough frequent flyer miles to go the moon.

But even with what appears to be a stabilized financial system and an uptick in investor confidence neither these consultants nor the economic development professionals who compete for their attention are breaking out the champagne anytime soon. Corporate expansions have been replaced by corporate contractions, with the resulting consolidations likely to produce a few winners but more losers for some time to come.

Even with that, financing is an issue, and for that reason among others even the companies that are loading the gun are taking a longer time to pull the trigger. The pressure on cash-strapped states and cities to put cash on the barrelhead to keep what they have — let alone expand — is greater than ever. Beyond incentives, contending communities are coming under ever more careful scrutiny. A surplus of workers is no longer much of a competitive advantage, although an abundance of qualified labor remains a big plus.

Green shoots? They can be found in green energy, with many consultants saying their siting assignments for wind, solar and other renewable energy projects is taking up a large percentage of their time.

Those were the big takeaways from a canvassing of corporate location advisors and real estate executives I conducted by e-mail, phone and in person in September and October. Some two dozen of these professionals — some busier these days than others —responded to the open-ended query, “how the recession has changed the site selection process in ways that are likely to prevail for the foreseeable future?” More here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

EDC seeks best-fit targets

By Mike Bennett
Staff Writer

Board members of the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County on Monday approved spending up to $31,500 for a national business to perform a target industry analysis and develop a marketing strategy.

The Foote Consulting Group will develop and carry on a strategy to meet with Wayne County target prospects for a year, according to Deane Foote's proposal submitted to the EDC.

"I can guarantee you quality appointments in front of the right decision-makers," said the proposal.

Among other things, he promises calling on companies and setting appointments with corporate representatives and site selectors. He promises 20 calls on prospects.

"It makes more sense to call on the companies you have the right environment for," said EDC leader Tim Rogers after the monthly meeting that was held at the Friends Fellowship Community Room.

There is a small circle of people that work in the site selectors business, Rogers said: "They listen to each other."

He said a local economic growth group will pay $15,000 of Foote's total estimate of up to $46,500.

The study will do a preliminary target assessment to determine trends and find sectors that prefer rural communities.

It will build a strength-weakness analysis on factors that could include labor costs and availability, transportation, building sites, education, taxes and cost of living.

Foote then promises to determine best-fit targets.

Tap Into Erie looks to trade on region's abundant water

Erie wants to use its most abundant resource to attract companies, create jobs


Lake Erie is a giant game changer -- capable of luring tourists to its sunny shores or burying us with lake-effect snow.

Now, some wonder if it might prove to be a magnet that could bring jobs to the region.

The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership is betting on it with Tap Into Erie, a new initiative that's looking for ways to use the region's abundant water supply to attract companies that depend on water.

The idea grew out of a need for the region to set itself apart, said Jake Rouch, vice president of economic development for the chamber.

Rouch, whose group continues to focus the majority of its budget and time on business retention, said he recognized that the region's budget for business attraction didn't stack up against other communities that would be competing for the same jobs.

Every town in the country, it seems, has a slick brochure and the promise of a good life and able workers. And most of those places stand ready to serve up a cocktail of tax breaks and low-interest loans.

A study by a local consultant confirmed what some might have expected. Erie is close to major population centers and has top-notch health care and abundant higher education opportunities.

But so did a lot of other places.

Water -- enough to satisfy the most demanding user -- was what made Erie unique.

That's not the case in much of the United States. The growing shortage was addressed earlier this year in hearings held by the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology.

The committee concluded: "Water shortages can negatively affect companies and entire industries and reduce job creation and retention. Increased water demand will come with increased costs to all businesses, industries and municipalities."

In Erie, where water can be drawn from a pair of giant pipes -- one 5 feet in diameter, the other 6 feet -- submerged 25 feet below the surface of Lake Erie -- the reality is different.

Without expanding the current system, Erie Water Works Chief Executive Paul Vojtek said the Erie City Water Authority has an untapped capacity of 36 million gallons a day and is using only about 26 million gallons a day.

That's a message Erie officials have been taking on the road in recent months as sponsors of the Oregon Brewers Festival and the Great American Beer Festival and while attending conferences for site selection and food packaging groups.

None of the events were chosen by accident.

Rouch said craft breweries, ethanol producers, food processors and data centers, which can use water for cooling, were all identified as industries that need water.

"We had to pick our targets," said Matthew Cummings, director of marketing communications for the chamber. "You have to know your target audience and speak to them directly. When you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one."

In addition to abundant water and the normal assortment of tax incentives, Tap Into Erie offers new companies a 40 percent water discount for the first five years.

It's an effort that's drawn the attention of the Wall Street Journal, which mentioned Erie's effort in an article published Monday that highlighted Milwaukee's efforts to accomplish the same goal with water drawn from Lake Michigan.

Tap Into Erie, funded by the chamber, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Erie Water Works, Erie County, the city of Erie and the Erie Community Foundation, hasn't landed the region any new employers yet, but its efforts are getting some good reviews and a lot of notice.

At the festival in Oregon, Erie's business attraction efforts scored as the lead story on one local television newscast, Cummings said.

"The reaction from the craft brewing industry was very favorable," Rouch said. "They all thought it was a great idea."

Rouch hopes the outreach efforts are planting seeds that might one day grow into something more as companies make decisions about expanding.

Is there a limit to how far an effort such as this one should go?

The Great Lakes represent the largest source of fresh surface water on Earth and 84 percent of North America's freshwater supply, but is there a point where too much consumption has an effect?

Not anytime soon, said Vojtek, who explains that most of the water taken from the lake is returned, either in the form of drainage or as treated water.

He favors an illustration that demonstrates just how much water sits at our back door.

Vojtek said if the rain stopped falling and all the water flowing into Lake Erie suddenly stopped, the 26 million gallons a day used by Erie would eventually lower the lake level.

In 12 years, he said, the water level would fall by 1 inch.

There are limits to the drawing power of abundant water, Rouch said, explaining that it's likely to be one of several factors some companies might consider.

But he is convinced it's an asset worth touting and an important way to set Erie apart. And the simple act of putting Erie on a prospect's radar can prove to be a tall order.

"It can be humbling," Rouch said. "A lot of people have never heard of Erie."

Promoting Erie's abundant water "is a way to differentiate yourself in a very cluttered marketplace," he said.

Vojtek said he believes in the effort and stands ready to provide water to companies that can create jobs.

"I think they have taken a good approach," he said. "Who knows what could come of it."

JIM MARTIN can be reached at 870-1668 or by e-mail.

Horizon Council: GrowFL program targets 'second-stage' companies

Jennifer Berg
Special to news-press.com

Hundreds of Florida businesses are about to become beneficiaries of a visionary program designed to help them grow and create jobs by providing access to an elite team of business analysts who are specially trained in a variety of disciplines and equipped with sophisticated tools designed and targeted for what are known as "second-stage" companies.

GrowFL will deploy its team of analysts at no charge to provide qualified companies with technical assistance and access to a suite of information and decision-making tools.

Patterned after a proven program pioneered in Colorado, the Florida Economic Gardening Institute (FEGI) was funded by the Florida Legislature to cultivate growth companies - privately held, resident firms that employ 10 to 50 workers, generate $1 million to $25 million in revenue, and had revenue and employment growth in three of the last five years.

FEGI has created a first-of-its-kind strategic partnership that will draw on the nationally recognized assets of the Edward Lowe Foundation, which for more than 20 years has been developing programs to encourage entrepreneurship as the key strategy for economic growth and community development.

The Edward Lowe Foundation has committed to bringing together a team of trained analysts to provide both initial services to the chosen companies and to train Florida teams.

"The GrowFL program is a unique statewide partnership that includes the Florida Economic Development Council, Enterprise Florida, Workforce Florida, the Florida High Tech Corridor Council and others working to identify and cultivate hundreds of growth companies," said program administrator Dr. Tom O'Neal, associate vice president of research and founder of UCF's (University of Central Florida's) highly acclaimed incubation network. "We're looking for companies I'd describe as teenagers. They are beyond the startup phase but need the tools to take them to adulthood."

Companies may apply at www.GrowFL.com. "Our team is already conducting screening interviews to rapidly ramp up this effort and get the tools in the hands of the companies most likely to create new jobs in Florida," O'Neal said.

Edward Lowe Foundation President Mark Lange said 8 percent of Florida businesses statewide meet the profile, and pointed out that between 2005 and 2007 second-stage companies in Florida were responsible for 36 percent of job growth. "At a time when jobs are so critical to our nation's economic recovery, Gov. Charlie Crist and Florida's Legislature were visionaries to invest in cultivating the companies that have proven their ability to grow and create employment."

"In every community, large or small, urban or rural, throughout the state we have economic development professionals helping to make the work of GrowFL a priority," said Amy Evancho, president of the Florida Economic Development Council, whose 500 members are economic development professionals, and public and private economic development agencies serving all of the state's cities and counties.

The Florida Economic Gardening Institute was created by the 2009 Florida Legislature as the Economic Gardening Technical Assistance Pilot Program to stimulate investment in Florida's economy by providing technical assistance for expanding businesses in the state. Qualified companies must be engaged in the following sectors: manufacturing; finance and insurance services; wholesale trade; information industries; professional, scientific and technical services; management services; and administrative and support services. Additional information is available at www.GrowFL.com.

For more information about resources available through the Lee County Economic Development Office call 338-3161 or visit www.leecountybusiness.com.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Riverside taking aspirational approach to looking into its economic future

The Press-Enterprise

When shown the Inland region's fate involved mere modest job growth in high-paying, skilled industries, Riverside leaders didn't want to go gently into an economic future they didn't feel was theirs.

Instead, they spent hundreds of hours and solicited the hopes and dreams of Inland residents to craft a vision for economic development focused squarely on improving the city's quality of life.

The result, a manifesto of sorts with a rally cry of a title, will be presented to Riverside's City Council on Dec. 15 for approval.

"Seizing Our Destiny: The Agenda for Riverside's Innovative Future" focuses on four qualities leaders hope define the city for decades: an "outstanding quality of life," "catalyst for innovation," "location of choice" and "unified city for common good," the report reads.

Figuring out how to make the city's dreams come true, including how to fund various efforts, will be the next step.

"We've never had this kind of aspirational strategic plan in my 30 years at City Hall," said Mayor Ron Loveridge. Previously, the city entertained any business owner who walked through the door, he said.

"We tended to have a passive rather than active economic development approach," he said. More here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Beware Social Media Snake Oil

Hordes of marketing "experts" are promoting the value of wikis, social networks, and blogs. All the hype may obscure the real potential of these online tools

By Stephen Baker

For business, the rising popularity of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media Web sites presents a tantalizing opportunity. As millions of people flock to these online services to chat, flirt, swap photos, and network, companies have the chance to tune in to billions of digital conversations. They can pitch a product, listen to customer feedback, or ask for ideas. If they work it right, customers might even produce companies' advertising for them and trade the ads with friends for free. Starbucks (SBUX), Dell (DELL), and Ford Motor (F) have all testified to the magic social media can create.

But the same tools carry risks. Employees encouraged to tap social networking sites can fritter away hours, or worse. They can spill company secrets or harm corporate relationships by denigrating partners. What's more, with one misstep, one clumsy entrée, companies can quickly find themselves victims of the forces they were trying to master. Thousands of bloggers attacked Motrin last year because of an advertisement from the Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) brand they found demeaning to mothers.

Over the past five years, an entire industry of consultants has arisen to help companies navigate the world of social networks, blogs, and wikis. The self-proclaimed experts range from legions of wannabes, many of them refugees from the real estate bust, to industry superstars such as Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk. They produce best-selling books and dole out advice or lead workshops at companies for thousands of dollars a day. The consultants evangelize the transformative power of social media and often cast themselves as triumphant case studies of successful networking and self-branding.

The problem, according to a growing chorus of critics, is that many would-be guides are leading clients astray. More here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Water Plan Aims to Help Jobs Flow

Milwaukee, With an Abundant Supply, Seeks to Offer Discounts to Businesses

The Wall Street Journal

MILWAUKEE -- This city has been selling the world Lake Michigan water for decades. It just mixed in a little hops and barley first.

Now, the nation's onetime brewing capital is trying to use its abundant water supply the way other towns use tax credits and highway ramps: as a lure for new businesses, particularly big users of water such as beverage makers and food processors.

Milwaukee is preparing an application for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission that would offer reduced water rates for up to five years to businesses that bring in at least 25 jobs. Milwaukee would be joining Erie, Pa., which has been offering a 40% discount on Lake Erie water to businesses that relocate to or expand in the city for more than a year.

"Our whole city was built around rivers and the lake," says Mayor Tom Barrett, a two-term Democrat who recently announced a gubernatorial bid, as his sport-utility vehicle sped toward the site of a former car-chassis plant that could benefit from the proposal. "It's our history, our culture and our recreation. So why not take advantage of that to revitalize our economy?"

Fresh water is growing scarce around the globe, and many people are betting that the Great Lakes' abundant supply will become increasingly valuable. But since water is usually far down on a company's list of reasons for relocating, some business experts are skeptical about how successful Milwaukee will be.

"It's a good idea on its surface," says Thomas Lyons, a business professor at the City University of New York's Baruch College, who has written numerous books on economic development. "But I'm not convinced it's going to have a major impact on the economic development of the city. More here.