Saturday, July 31, 2010

Facing cuts of its own, regional economic arm axes tourism from its portfolio

Written by Bibeka Shrestha
Smoky Mountain News

With ever shrinking pockets, the regional economic development arm AdvantageWest is scaling back its investment in tourism for the time being.

The group — which represents 23 Western North Carolina counties — says it will primarily focus on agribusiness, entrepreneurship, green technology and high-paying, advanced manufacturing.

“The board looked at where resources needed to go in this time of limited allocation,” said Scott Hamilton, president and CEO of AdvantageWest.

While AdvantageWest is best known for its role recruiting and luring traditional industry, it also dapples in newer economic development models, from coaching entrepreneurs to funding niche initiatives like Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a commercial kitchen where farmers can turn their produce into value-added products.

With so many organizations already focused on tourism — including chambers of commerce and tourism development authorities in nearly every county, along with the regional Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and Smoky Mountain Host — AdvantageWest decided to focus on less represented fields.

“There is not another regional advanced manufacturing organization,” said Hamilton. “There is a regional tourism organization that does marketing.”

The argument that other tourism agencies can pick up the slack isn’t convincing David Huskins, director of Smoky Mountain Host, a travel promotion agency for the seven counties west of Asheville that has lost its AdvantageWest funding.

Huskins points out that there are also many economic development organizations in each county. They often call on their counterparts at tourism entities to tout the quality of life in the mountains in order to lure businesses to relocate.

“What if the tourism agencies just said to AdvantageWest, ‘Well, there’s so many of your kind out there, we’ll just focus on attracting tourists and let y’all worry about presenting the region’s livability?’” said Huskins.

Hamilton said the funding cut doesn’t mean that AdvantageWest is blind to tourism’s importance in Western North Carolina.

“We see that tourism is a vital component of the regional economy,” said Hamilton. “I had my start in the tourism business when I was eight years old. I know what that means.”

Hamilton pointed out that funding had likewise been cut to traditional economic development commissions like CarolinaWest and the N.C. Industrial Crescent.

“Tourism wasn’t the only one that felt that,” said Hamilton. “Everybody has felt the pain. As the state climbs out of the recession, there will be other opportunities to get back into it and support it.”

According to Hamilton, AdvantageWest will continue funding tourism projects with a significant regional impact on a case-by-case basis.

“They just have to ask,” said Hamilton.

A dwindling impact

Smoky Mountain Host already stopped receiving its annual $25,000 grant from AdvantageWest in 2009. Likewise, Blue Ridge Mountain Host and N.C. High Country Host have also lost their $25,000 grants.

These grants had comprised the majority of AdvantageWest’s regular contributions to the tourism industry.

Smoky Mountain Host used AdvantageWest money to support cooperative regional advertising in major publications like the N.C. Travel Guide, Frommer’s Budget Travel, and Southern Living. Purchasing one or two pages to create a visible splash in such magazines can cost up to $80,000 per page.

“A $15,000 contribution makes a big difference,” said Huskins.

Working with partners to create co-op advertisements also promoted collaboration in the tourism industry, Huskins said.

Years ago, Smoky Mountain Host had used AdvantageWest grants to support an annual conference of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and set up a tourism call center to field inquiries from prospective travelers.

Occasionallly, AdvantageWest took on special tourism initiatives in addition to the annual grants to the Host organizations.

For example, AdvantageWest had supported the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area in its infancy until it could stand on its own legs. It also took part in the MountainSouth USA initiative, a multi-state organization that promoted international travel to the mountains. AdvantageWest had secured funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce for the project.

“I know of no equivalent investments by AdvantageWest in the Western North Carolina tourism industry since that time,” said Huskins.

Hamilton emphasized that the recession has prompted AdvantageWest, along with other organizations, to make tough decisions about cuts. AdvantageWest stopped funding economic development groups years before it cut off funding to the Host organizations.

“Nobody likes where we are with the economic conditions,” said Hamilton. “These are just some of the hard realities of when funding is reduced.”

Smoky Mountain Host will continue receiving funding from tourism-related grants and member dues, but the loss of AdvantageWest’s support will take away from its tourism research initiative.

Research is “vital” to creating a marketing and branding strategy for Western North Carolina, Huskins said.

Up until a few years ago, AdvantageWest had been a major facilitator for Western North Carolina’s tourism industry, but not anymore.

“Frankly, it is clear that the AdvantageWest agenda for economic development in WNC has little, if any, focus on the tourism industry,” said Huskins.

Hamilton said at this point, he could not say whether the Host organizations would receive grant funding once more.

“I don’t know what’s coming down the line,” said Hamilton.

Plunging revenues

AdvantageWest, which promotes economic development in the 23 westernmost counties, has seen its state contributions shrink by more than 33 percent since 2006.

• State revenues in 2006-07: $1,674,910

• State revenues in 2009-10: $1,089,843

Tourism’s impact on the economy

According to the latest figures from the N.C. Department of Commerce, travel and tourism in the 23 western counties is responsible annually for 27,100 jobs; $509 million in payroll; $2.4 billion in expenditures within the region; $99.7 million in local tax receipts and $119.3 million in state taxes generated within the region.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Plan pushes Hickory for business, living

By Larry Clark | Hickory Daily Record
Published: July 25, 2010

Scott Millar knows the importance of branding.

"Branding is trying to convey more than what is in a name," he said, or a logo.

Millar is president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corp., a partner in Hickory's branding and marketing initiative.

He's been in the forefront of many major economic coups for the Greater Hickory Metro area. Millar has been the EDC for more than 18 years.

"Branding is very important. It gives you something identifiable," said. "You want to project an image so strong that people can picture in their minds what's there before they get there."

That's what Hickory is trying to establish, a positive picture of what people will find when they consider moving their families or their businesses to the city.

The branding initiative isn't just about new, diverse industry, Millar said, although diversity is vital to maintain a strong, steady economy.

"We are identified with furniture. People recognize Hickory as a furniture center," he said.

Even though furniture manufacturing has taken a big hit in the recessive economy, it's still a major player in local industry.

"We are likely to have more manufacturing than other areas," Millar said. "We have the location, the resources and the cost structure to support manufacturing. We still have the highest concentration of manufacturing in the United States."

Still, there are other strengths.

"We need to ask, what are our strong points. Who do we want to sell to? Who and what do we want to attract? That's what any marketing campaign must include."

Millar thinks Hickory is on the right track in creating a focused branding effort.

"You want one campaign, not a lot of little ones. The right campaign will present a broad picture that can get results."

It's a heavy task, Millar said, because of all the elements in Hickory's economy and the city's amenities.

"To balance out the economic spectrum — that's the challenge," he said.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

After several headquarters losses, Colorado labors to boost its corporate clout

By Andy Vuong
The Denver Post

To compete with other states for top employers, Colorado needs to establish a long-term economic development plan, bolster private-sector involvement and overcome a factious political environment to deliver the message that it welcomes growth, according to business leaders interviewed by The Denver Post.

The drumbeat of high-profile corporate headquarters defections has executives and economic development officials questioning the system Colorado has in place to attract and retain jobs, expansions and relocations.

In addition to the long-standing view that Colorado is hamstrung by a meager war chest of incentives, the state lacks a clear and sustained brand identity in the corporate world, like Indiana with manufacturing and Oregon with activewear.

And Colorado's business climate is afflicted with concerns over anti-business ballot measures that seemingly show up every election cycle and the elimination of several tax breaks this past legislative session that could cost companies tens of millions of dollars annually.

"We as a state need to do a far better job of communicating the message that we're open for business, that this is a pro-business state," said Ken Tuchman, chairman and chief executive of Douglas County-based TeleTech, a high-tech outsourcing firm that employs 43,000 worldwide.

Since December 2003, when the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. was formed, Colorado has posted a seasonally adjusted net gain of 52,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Indiana and Georgia, states that local officials say have attractive economic development models, actually shed 96,000 and 37,000 jobs, respectively, since then.

But the recent or pending headquarters departures of Coors, Frontier Airlines, Qwest and First Data represent thousands of lost jobs, millions of dollars in lost philanthropic contributions and a battered image that could take years to repair.

The loss of those companies came at about the same time as the Great Recession hit the state hard. On a percentage basis since September 2008, Colorado has shed more jobs than the country as a whole — 6 percent compared with 4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nonprofits such as the Denver Center for the Performing Arts have already felt the crunch in fundraising.

"Over the last year or two, attendance has been holding up really pretty well," said Dan Ritchie, chairman of the DCPA. "Our problems are the large contributions, which come from the larger corporations and businesses."

Tough losses at the top

Colorado's corporate heft has dropped, its Fortune 500 base dwindling from 12 firms in 2007 to eight after factoring in the pending departure of Qwest and arrival of kidney-care provider DaVita. Two companies fell off the list because of lower revenues.

Coors merged with Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing and moved to Chicago. Qwest agreed to sell out to a company with deep roots in Louisiana. Frontier, not a Fortune 500 firm but one of the state's most visible companies, was acquired out of bankruptcy by Indianapolis-based Republic Airways.

First Data bolted to Atlanta because it is considered a hub for the electronic-payment industry and provides quicker flight access to Europe.

"It's just a variety of reasons," said Preston Gibson, president of the Jefferson Economic Council. "I wish I could say there's one thing that we're doing wrong that we need to correct so we could stop this bleeding."

First, Colorado needs a sustainable, long-term economic development plan, one that identifies the state's key attributes and sells them to business, Gibson said.

"The legislature needs a vision for this state — develop a vision as to where we want to be in 25 years," he said.

For example, Tuchman said, Colorado should capitalize on its reputation as one of the healthiest states in the nation to attract the headquarters of companies such as Nike and REI.

"It just seems like that's a no-brainer that we need to also be focusing on the companies that are focused on outdoor recreation," Tuchman said.

Colorado's focus changes from one administration to the next, with former Republican Gov. Bill Owens zeroing in on high tech and current Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter spotlighting a "New Energy Economy."

While direction falls on state leadership, Tuchman said top executives should take the initiative to help grow the business community.

"The business leaders of Colorado can't just depend upon government to attract business but instead need to consciously get together and need to organize in a way that will allow us to efficiently go out and work our relationships and assist government in attracting business to Colorado," he said.

That dovetails into another shortcoming of Colorado's economic development structure — private-sector commitment.

Locals point to the likes of Indiana and Georgia that lean on industry executives to help shape state-level economic development agendas and close expansion or relocation deals.

"A couple of other states have shown true vision in terms of how they're approaching economic development," said Wendy Mitchell, president of the Aurora Economic Development Council. "There's an opportunity to look at things differently."

Finding and keeping

The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade has an annual budget of about $40 million to cover six divisions, including business development, finance and tourism.

The office has a nine-member board of industry executives, called the Economic Development Commission, that falls under the finance division. The commission's primary purpose is to review incentives packages, not shape the office's agenda. It has a budget of about $1 million for operating costs and incentives.

"Other states do a better job of having the private sector involved in (economic development) efforts," said Ray Pittman, president of Denver-based Pittman Development Group, a development consultant to firms such as International Speedway Corp. "The best sales pitch on why you should come to Colorado . . . is probably going to come from the CEO of a successful company who's already doing business here."

The marketing of Colorado to out-of-state businesses is primarily left to the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., an affiliate of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Metro Denver EDC executive vice president Tom Clark describes the privately funded group as the nucleus of the Front Range's economic development system. It counts 70 counties, cities and development organizations as members, including the state economic development office.

"We're the central office," he said. "The central office's job is to accumulate as much energy, i.e. money, do marketing and public relations, drive deals in and farm those out."

That gives Clark a marquee role in Colorado economic development, but he can't cut any incentives deals. In Indiana and Georgia, the state's lead salespeople are also the dealmakers.

Don Marostica, Colorado's economic development chief, said he doesn't want to focus on marketing.

"You go out and spend all of that money on marketing and recruiting and all that, and in the end, we have to do that . . . but that's not where I want to concentrate my time," he said.

Marostica wants to focus on retaining existing businesses and helping them grow.

"I want to make sure the companies we have, we're taking care of — that we know six months before that Qwest is talking about merging so we can be figuring out how do we keep them here," Marostica said. "We didn't know it."

To do that, he said, the state has to gain trust from its hometown companies.

Anti-business rumblings

Despite the string of major headquarters losses, Clark said Colorado is doing well on economic development, pointing to wins such as DaVita's relocation to Denver and reports ranking Colorado among the nation's leaders in business climate and economic strength.

Colorado ranked No. 3 on CNBC's list of America's Top States for Business, which highlighted the state's quality of life, business friendliness and workforce.

"Every state is losing because we're all losing jobs," Clark said. "Colorado is positioned in a much better place than lots of folks."

Other wins for Colorado include major expansions from wind-turbine manufacturer Vestas and ConocoPhillips, which is building a research and development center in Louisville. In addition to DaVita, the state has attracted the headquarters of dozens of smaller firms, such as RePower USA.

"Since 2003, we've had 43 headquarters moved to Colorado," said Kelly Brough, president of the Denver chamber. "The reality is, that's pretty hard to counter."

Colorado's business climate, though well-regarded in reports such as CNBC's, is often stained by anti-business ballot measures and tax policies.

Ritchie of the DCPA thinks that's a key role in Colorado's corporate losses.

"It has to be a matter of cost and taxes," Ritchie said of the recent departures. "Businesses tend to be very pragmatic."

This past legislative session, lawmakers eliminated several long-standing tax breaks and credits, including an exemption that covered downloaded software. November poses another threat to business in the form of three ballot measures that would slash billions in state and local taxes and restrict government borrowing.

In 2001, Colorado lost out on Boeing's headquarters after Illinois and Chicago reportedly offered up $63 million in tax breaks and other incentives. Colorado's package was worth up to $28 million.

Last year, Republic Airways chose Milwaukee for an expansion after receiving $27 million in incentives compared with about $17 million from Denver and Colorado. The decision led to the relocation of about 200 Denver jobs to Milwaukee.

"State governments across the country have used the economic downturn to retool and boost their economic development efforts to focus on growth areas," said AT&T's Colorado president, Bill Soards. "A state so rich in technology, human resources, capital and innovation can't continue to rely so heavily on our mountains or climate to drive growth."

Attracting development

Economic development officials say quality of life is a factor in luring students and workers to the state, which in turn attract companies.

"We don't have the money to compete with a lot of these states like Texas, Nevada, Michigan, Tennessee, etc.," Marostica said. "We're not going to recruit big headquarters companies. If they want to come, they're going to come."

In 2005, Indiana established the public-private Indiana Economic Development Corp. to replace its Department of Commerce. Armed with an annual budget of $37 million to focus solely on retaining, growing and attracting business, the IEDC operates like a business.

"We can move quickly," said Indiana businessman Mickey Maurer, who served as the IEDC's first president. "We didn't have bureaucratic red tape. I could speak for the state like a normal president or CEO of a business."

Deals under $3 million can be cut on the spot. Larger deals go to a board consisting of 11 business executives and chaired by the governor.

Indiana hasn't gained or lost any Fortune 500 companies in the past three years. It picked up the remains of Frontier through Republic's acquisition. In 2006, the state landed manufacturing plants from Toyota, Honda and Rolls-Royce projected to create more than 3,600 jobs.

When Longmont-based Abound Solar announced plans this month to create 1,500 manufacturing jobs, the company said 1,200 of those would land in Indiana. The state offered the company nearly $12 million in tax incentives.

Georgia has landed the headquarters of two Fortune 500 companies in the past two years, First Data and NCR. Another recent relocation, Asbury Automotive, was on the Fortune 500 list in 2009.

Georgia hasn't won them all. In 2004, it failed to lure Kmart's headquarters. Last year, Swedish-based Husqvarna moved its North American headquarters from Augusta, Ga., to Charlotte, N.C.

Georgia's marketing and business attraction and retention efforts are led by the state Department of Economic Development. Businesspeople from various regions across the state sit on the department's board. The state and private industry equally fund Georgia Allies, a $1 million-a-year partnership that markets the state at trade shows and conventions.

Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, said legislators are responsible for developing a long-term job creation and economic growth plan, but it has to be a bipartisan effort with help from the business community. He said that hasn't been done because sometimes "we end up talking more politics than policy."

"We've got to realize that it's not a partisan issue," Shaffer said. "It's an issue that impacts the entire state."

Andy Vuong: 303-954-1209, or

Economic development reasons why Huntsville beat out Tucson

Published on Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Raytheon is building a new 70,000-square-foot, $75 million missile production facility in Huntsville, Ala. Tucson was a finalist, but didn't have what Raytheon needed and Arizona didn't give what Alabama did.

The company looked at 80 different sites over 18 months but in the end decided, "Huntsville was the most financially viable and operationally feasible solution for large missile integration," they said on their site.

There are many factors that go into a decision like this, but there are several large factors that ruled out Tucson.

Brian Hilson, president of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce told news outlets Raytheon is to receive a $2 million cash incentive for building the facility and bringing jobs to the state. The payments will be in one $1 million and two $500,000 increments, when they meet job creation goals.

Much of Arizona's incentive programs have been placed on hold during its financial and budgetary problems.

Tucson didn't have the development ready space Raytheon needed.

The 200 acre site Raytheon will use, sits on the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal site. When dealing with missile production and testing there are specific requirements needed by Raytheon for a site. The company said on its website of Tucson, "the acquisition of additional land, development of site infrastructure, and road work on undeveloped land would not support current schedule requirements."

Raytheon will use the facility for final assembly and testing of Standard Missile-3 and the new Standard Missile-6. SM-3 production is expected to increase substantially in the next 10 years, and SM-6 production is expected to begin in 2010.

John Patterson, Raytheon public relations director, said Tucson didn't fall short in any way and that there is room to grow in Tucson in different ways and the company is still committed to Tucson.

But in the game of economic development, if a city doesn't land an expansion or can't help a company grow here, they've fallen short.

Copyright © 2010 Inside Tucson Business

Campaign not meant as insult, but to entice commuters, retirees

by Brandon L. Summers • Daily News
Published/Last Modified on Friday, July 23, 2010 3:27 PM CDT

A marketing campaign designed to entice commuters and retirees to consider living in Wahpeton has had negative feedback, according to the Wahpeton economic development office.

More than 10,000 North Dakota and Minnesota residents within a 15-35 mile radius received the letters, which touted the rewards of living here and the city's amenities and opportunities.

"It's no different than what Barnesville (Minn.) is doing on radio and TV," said Jane Priebe, economic development director.

The letters, though, used the names of residents (as opposed to 'Sir' or 'Madam') and the name of their town in the letters to make them more personalized. Fergus Falls, Minn., received roughly 6,500 letters.

The direct mailing campaign has backfired somewhat. In addition to being perplexed as to how the city received their names, some people were also insulted by the letters, perceiving that Wahpeton is insinuating that their towns do not have these certain amenities and opportunities.

"(The letter) certainly wasn't sent with the spirit of 'your community doesn't have these amenities,'" Priebe said.

She said there haven't been many, but there have been calls inquiring how the names were acquired.

Brian Meckler, owner and marketing adviser of Absolute Marketing, said the company purchased a bundle of names and addresses from a third party vendor on behalf of the city, which is legal.

"I don't think there's anything that was insulting or offensive, but maybe... with their town referenced in there they might have (taken) it as more of a competitive message," Meckler said.

There will not be another mailing and Priebe and Meckler said names will not be used again for this or any other campaign. A second mailing campaign is not planned.

Letters will also be sent to the impacted Richland County cities and their mayors explaining the intentions of the campaign.

Aside from the reaction, the campaign has otherwise been met with positive response.

"It's really for those folks who are on the bubble about where they want to live for a while," said Priebe.

"It's also to give a good, positive reinforcement about the community for people who are already living and working in Wahpeton, to the ads and have some pride," Meckler said.

The city received a $25,000 state grant for marketing from the North Dakota Department of Commerce to entice North Dakotans but mostly Minnesotans to live in Wahpeton.

The campaign, which began in April, will continue through December with a series of regular radio, TV and print ads.

BDC Board approves updated Economic Development Strategy

By Jessica Miller E-E City Editor
Friday, July 23, 2010 11:43 AM CDT

An updated Economic Development Strategy was approved during a meeting of the Bartlesville Development Corporation Board of Directors on Thursday morning.

The strategy was developed by Garner Economics, a consulting firm retained by the BDC to update the current multi-year economic development strategy last completed in April 2006.

Jay Garner, of Garner Economics, said there are three ingredients to economic development success.

He said the BDC has to have the resources to do what is needed.

“You have that. You won’t have that if you don’t pass the sales tax. But you have the sales tax,” Garner said, referring to the 1/4-cent economic development tax.

He said the BDC also has to have a credible and quality staff and has to have something to market and sell.

“You have all of those things,” Garner said. “The challenge that you have then is to sustain that.”

Recommendations in the strategy include the Chamber of Commerce taking the lead on retail promotion. Garner said the BDC should not handle retail promotion and should keep its mission and focus on being the driver of primary jobs.

Garner said it is recommended that the BDC consider hiring an additional staff person to serve as a project manager, directing the BDC’s external marketing and sales efforts. He explained that two people will not be able to handle the work as the BDC becomes more proactive and aggressive in economic development.

He said the BDC will have to do a multi-faceted print and electronic media campaign and improve its website.

Another recommendation involves working with the congressional delegation to have U.S. Highway 75 from Tulsa to Bartlesville designated as an Interstate spur by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Garner explained that the limited highway access — with there not being an interstate running through Bartlesville — keeps Bartlesville from showing up in searches performed by consultants and companies for potential opportunities near interstate highways.

Some recommendations involve improving Bartlesville.

Those recommendations include the development of a flexible office building in Sunset Industrial Park. Garner explained that about 70 to 80 percent of all inquiries are on an existing building. He said it needs to be flexible so it can be made to fit the desired needs of the buyer.

He said when he was in Bartlesville earlier this year, the wireless Internet did not work downtown and he learned it had not been working for some time.

Garner noted signage that states Bartlesville is a wireless city.

“Either fix the wireless or remove the sign. But that’s extremely important to do if you’re trying to promote yourself as a technology-oriented community but don’t do false advertising,” Garner said.

He said Bartlesville has been a success story.

“The challenge that you have is that you need to sustain that position and not become complacent,” Garner said.

He noted steps are being taking to sustain that position now through the updated economic development strategy.

Recommendations came through analyzation by Garner Economics of Bartlesville’s competitiveness. Key local demographic and economic indicators were compared to state and national trends and the trends of a number of select cities.

Some of the findings show that the current average wage per job is 12 percent lower than the national average but Bartlesville has largely avoided the multi-year job losses of the current recession. Since 2006, Bartlesville has had the lowest unemployment rate among other geographies.

Bartlesville had the highest relative average employment growth rate in 2007 and 2009 and placed second after Tulsa in 2008 but early 2010 trends show Bartlesville below the state, Houston and Tulsa.

Of the workers in Washington County, 64 percent of them also live in Washington County and of the workers in Bartlesville, 52 percent of them live in Bartlesville.

Tulsa County is the top source for commuters into Bartlesville and is also the top location for workers commuting out of Washington County.

Creative Coast evolution underway

Successful knowledge-based business advocacy group gets overhaul

By Adam Van Brimmer

Sometimes improving on a good thing requires more than a tweak here or there.

In the case of The Creative Coast Alliance, the call is for an overhaul.

The committee charged with plotting the future of the knowledge-based business organization pushed for "exponential change." Led by locally based workplace consultant Zelda Tenenbaum, the Creative Coast transition team has completed it six-month study.

The recommendations include a revamped leadership and staffing structure, a streamlined vision and mission, a move from the current offices on Hutchinson Island into space in the Historic District and a rebranding, which could include a new name. Many of those recommendations are already being implemented.

"Savannah is sitting ready to be a creative hub for knowledge-based businesses," Tenenbaum said. "During our work we discovered the best way to make the Creative Coast better was to change the concept."

Formerly, the organization was an alliance of funding partners aimed at creating, growing and attracting jobs. The new Creative Coast will be involved in economic development indirectly - fostering that sense of a creative community that appeals to entrepreneurs and businesses looking for a home - but leave the recruitment of new businesses to the Savannah Economic Development Authority.

"It's not their job to recruit. Their job is to go out and support and show something that these companies want to join," interim SEDA President and CEO Lynn Pitts said. "These innovative companies won't come and just see us as a wasteland of container ships and manufacturing and tourism. They'll see a creative community."

The Creative Coast will cater to the existing creative community, acting as a "catalyst" by facilitating networking opportunities, giving guidance and advice regarding local resources, connecting small businesses with area corporations to share expertise, partnering with events and existing services, advocating for knowledge-based businesses and operating the website.

The organization will be led by a nine-member board of directors chaired by Cathy Hill, Georgia Power's vice president for Coastal Georgia, and staffed by Fitz Haile and Jake Hodesh. Haile and Hodesh are already on the job, while the board will officially begin its tenure in September.

SEDA's board oversaw The Creative Coast Alliance dating back to its formation in 2008, and the organization was staffed by SEDA Vice President of Marketing Brynn Grant and three others.

Grant stepped down as the Creative Coast's executive director in early June, and two members of her Creative Coast staff, Jamie Wolf and Leigh Acevedo, now report to SEDA.

Haile, who was Grant's director of marketing, public relations and Web, will team with Hodesh in the more independent Creative Coast. Hodesh is an entrepreneur and the co-founder of the Geekend conference.

Haile and Hodesh will move The Creative Coast out of the SEDA building on Hutchinson Island and into offices downtown. They are currently negotiating the lease and expect to be in the new space in mid-August or early September. The new digs will allow the group to better serve the creative community and give the Creative Coast greater exposure to all of Savannah.

"It's important that we're visible, and being right smack in the middle of downtown helps our visibility and our street cred," Haile said. "And frankly, it will be convenient to be close to the businesses we serve and we talk to."

The lone Creative Coast issue still unaddressed is revenue generation. Funding cuts by the City of Savannah and Chatham County prompted concerns about the Creative Coast's future and ultimately led to the formation of the transition team.

The committee discussed several funding mechanisms, including membership, sponsorship and special events, but ultimately chose to leave those decisions to the new board of directors.

The current funding partners - SEDA, the city and the county - will continue to subsidize the Creative Coast for the rest of 2010. Two of those partners have pledged their support for 2011.

Those commitments will allow the board of directors time to get settled and explore revenue generation for 2012 and beyond.

Funding aside, the Creative Coast's future is vital to Savannah's economic future, Tenenbaum said.

"We have so much here that we haven't tapped the potential of yet. We think the Creative Coast can facilitate that," Tenenbaum said. "The new Creative Coast will help make Savannah's creative community something people want to come and be a part of."

A sharper image

By Larry Clark | Hickory Daily Record

The City of Hickory wants to bolster its image.

Not that the city is hurting. Hickory has scored some impressive victories in the high-stakes competition for new business.

It has also launched programs to revitalize areas with empty and underutilized buildings.

However, city officials say an aggressive, comprehensive branding and marketing campaign can assure future growth and stabilize the economy and population.

"We are looking at opportunities and soliciting ideas ... for branding and business development in general," said Alan Jackson, chairman of Hickory's Business Development Committee.

"We need to determine what is the message Hickory wants to send prospective business and residents. Who should we go after? How do we make them notice (Hickory)," Jackson said.

He said the committee sees branding as the city's top priority. The panel, he said, "is like a small business task force."

"We are open to suggestions from anyone in the area to attract business and grow existing business," Jackson said.

And bring more people to live in Hickory.

Jackson and Mandy Pitts, the city public relations officer, discussed the early stages of the initiative at last week's City Council meeting.

"The city is specifically seeking to grow its population through recruiting active adults, 'live anywhere' professionals and entrepreneurs," Pitts said.

The branding initiative will focus on "business and people relocation marketing" and incorporate current economic development and tourism activities, she said.

"How we support the businesses we already have is important," Jackson said. "Marketing can increase motel and hotel tax revenues, spending, sales tax revenues and investment."

The city staff and the BDC is working with the Catawba County Economic Development Corp. and the Convention and Visitors Bureau on the campaign.

The project contains five key elements:

• Conduct research with the public to determine attitudes, perceptions, opportunities and challenges to enhancing the city's image.

"Why are businesses, residents and visitors choosing us or not choosing us?" Pitts said.

• Recommend specific means to deliver the message about Hickory. That would include visual and printed media.

• Develop strategies based on research and applicable data.

• Ensure that the message is tailored to the Internet and given a substantial Web presence.

• Define how the initiative relates to existing EDC and CVB strategies and can expand to include regional partners and assets.

The city staff and Business Development Committee members agree that assessment by an outside consultant would provide a clearer vision of branding Hickory.

"Sometimes, you need an outsider's view to bring together all the parts," Jackson said.

"We need to be open-minded," and a consultant can ensure the city is on the right track regarding the image it wants to project and what's most important to the city, he said.

The BDC will meet with four prospective consulting firms early next month.

Although there is no timetable to create and launch the branding initiative, "We want to choose one by the end of August and see them get started in October," Jackson said.

He estimates the firm will need a four- to six-week study period.

Hickory officials have a diversity of goals, led by economic growth and adding to the population.

"Branding is the linchpin" for success, Jackson said. "It's what gets you noticed."

There are no cost estimates for the branding and marketing initiative.

The City Council will get an update on the project when the BDC recommends a consulting firm.

But there is no escaping the proposition that the city aims for a substantially greater return from business growth than the expense of marketing.

The City Council will approve any plan and will be actively involved throughout the project, Pitts said.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ann Arbor reaches out to California to get economic boost

Nathan Bomey |

Ann Arbor is getting cozy with Silicon Valley - and local economic development officials hope the budding relationship leads to more jobs for this area.

Local companies, investors and economic development leaders are seeking to leverage Ann Arbor’s connections with businesses based in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco region. In Silicon Valley, life sciences, information technology, research services and environmentally friendly products account for 33.6 percent of total employment, according to the Silicon Valley Economic Development Alliance.

Cultivating relationships with West Coast business leaders is a central goal of several California trips organized by Ann Arbor leaders in recent months.

Ann Arbor marketing executive and former ProQuest product manager Amanda Ross, a veteran of California’s frenetic entrepreneurial world, is playing a key role in helping local entrepreneurs connect with Silicon Valley visionaries.

Ross and her husband Andy this spring started marketing and design firm Stunning Creative in Ann Arbor. They spent their entire first-year marketing budget to win a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society auction offering lunch meetings in California with some of Silicon Valley’s top venture capitalists.

Ross organized a group of Ann Arbor entrepreneurs - including Ambiq Micro CEO Scott Hanson, Current Motor CEO Peter Scott and investor Mahendra Ramsinghani - to travel to California to participate in the first two of three lunches June 30 and July 1. They got to meet Draper Fisher Jurvetson founder Tim Draper and Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers co-founder Frank Caufield.

Coincidentally, Draper’s firm thereafter became an investor in Ambiq Micro after the University of Michigan spinoff company won the Global Business Plan Competition run by Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Cisco Systems.

Hanson said he’s hopeful that Draper’s firm will use its deep pockets to fund Ambiq Micro for years to come.

Hanson said that fostering productive business relationships between Ann Arbor companies and Silicon Valley is possible despite the geographic challenges.

“Everybody I’ve talked to on the West Coast has been very receptive to what we’ve had to say,” he said. “The challenge is not getting them to believe you. The challenge is getting them to listen in the first place.”

Getting an audience with Silicon Valley business leaders is the main goal of Ann Arbor SPARK’s previously planned trip to California this month.

SPARK executives Jennifer Owens and Amy Cell are visiting the Silicon Valley region this month in hopes of convincing companies to consider Ann Arbor for future business opportunities.

SPARK’s team is hosting 30 company executives at a dinner July 20 in Palo Alto, Calif., to outline the Ann Arbor region’s draw for their companies. SPARK is also hosting a networking event July 27 for 100 U-M alumni in the San Francisco and Silicon Valley area.

“These are people who may have an interest in knowing what’s happening in Ann Arbor. They may have an interest in coming back for the right talent opportunity or they may be in a position to influence business decisions,” said Elizabeth Parkinson, SPARK’s vice president of marketing and public relations.

Ross, who also won an auction for a lunch with software investor John Hummer, offered that meeting to Owens and Cell while they’re visiting Silicon Valley.

“The best use of that opportunity is for them to pitch Ann Arbor and really position Ann Arbor as a place for customer support teams and tech support teams ala Google and Barracuda,” Ross said.

Ann Arbor’s direct connections to California are multiplying. In recent years, several California-based companies have identified the Ann Arbor area as a place for expansion:

--Barracuda Networks started an office in Ann Arbor in 2007 and now has nearly 100 employees with plans to continue hiring a new information technology security employee every week.

--California-based startup Systems In Motion announced in fall 2009 that it would start a software services office in Pittsfield Township with plans to hire 1,100 employees within five years.

--Online retail personalization firm MyBuys and IT security services firm NetEnrich, both based in California, have launched offices in Ann Arbor within the last two years with plans to collectively hire 475 workers over five years.

Convincing California companies to launch expansions in Ann Arbor is a significant opportunity, but growing local companies is just as important.

“There’s some great companies spinning out of the university right now,” Hanson said. “I think we have startup companies that rival any other in the country or the world for that matter. My hope is that if we can get a few more startups spinout out of the university we can get a critical mass and we can become known as a center of entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hopes fly high for national aviation research center

Originally appeared on News-Journal Online at

By BOB KOSLOW, Staff Writer
July 18, 2010 12:05 AM

DAYTONA BEACH -- Could a proposed research park here turn into a national aviation research and development center and an economic development engine?

Some officials think so after attending an aviation forum last week at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Executives from influential aviation and space companies like Boeing, Gulfstream, Harris, HEICO, Honeywell, ITT Corp. and Lockheed Martin were joined by elected officials and local business leaders from International Speedway Corp., Team Volusia, Halifax Health and Consolidated-Tomoka Land Co.

"I came to the school to see what Embry-Riddle did outside academia," said Bob Galligani, vice president of civil aviation strategy for Massachusetts-based Raytheon. "They just blew me away. What the college is doing is incredible. I was very impressed."

So impressed, Galligani plans to return in the fall with more company executives for a closer look.

Marion Blakey, a former administrator at the Federal Aviation Administration and CEO of the Aviation Industries Association, stayed at the forum longer than anticipated and missed a flight home.

That's exactly the reaction and interest ERAU and U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, wanted to create when they organized the forum.

"We wanted to build relationships and we did that. Now we want to follow up and try and expand on that," Mica said of the forum. "I feel pretty confident if we get our act together that we could make Embry-Riddle a center for aviation technology R&D programs in the future."

He also noted the need to create aviation and space jobs in light of reductions in the NASA programs at the Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County.

Forum attendees took a tour of the university that included the 90-acre research park site along Clyde Morris Boulevard. The center could be home to a dozen buildings with 800,000 square feet of space employing 2,000 engineers and researchers with salaries in excess of $45,000, said Tina Recascino, Embry-Riddle's vice president for research and assistant to the president. The park could generate numerous associated businesses.

Several research programs were showcased to provide examples of the university's commitment.

ERAU is part of a team, with Lockheed Martin, developing a new national air traffic control system at the Florida NextGen Testbed in the old Daytona Beach International Airport terminal. The testbed's size is being doubled to 10,000 square feet this fall.

ERAU also is a leader in testing unmanned aerial vehicle technology for military, civilian and commercial uses.

"We're unique in that we are interested in research and development, but more and more companies are interested in our students. We produce engineers and aviation graduates and this country is not producing enough," Recascino said. "It's best to be close to us if you want to grab the best we have."

Boeing employs about 3,500 ERAU graduates and is building an assembly plant in Charleston, S.C., and could be looking to partner with ERAU, said Matt Ganz, the company's vice president and general manager/research and technology.

"I was impressed with the quality of the people and the shape of the facilities," Ganz said. "The potential is there. They have the key elements to success, a good university, it's at the airport and has the total commitment of local, state and federal leaders."

ERAU is so well-regarded that it's the only university Boeing is partnering with to work on a maximum $1.7 billion federal government contract to develop new aviation technology.

Victor Mendelson, co-president of HEICO, a large maker of aircraft parts in South Florida, was also impressed with the people, facilities and unified commitment.

"We are seriously looking at what we could do, but we need to learn and understand more," he said. "If this happens, it will be slow. The aviation industry has long lead-in times."

ERAU and Volusia County Economic Development officials are meeting in the coming weeks to discuss options to secure grants for roads, utilities and one or two building pads at the research park.

"If we can get one or two businesses in there in five years, that would please me," Recascino said.

Securing economic development funds would be "the easy part" if there were partners lined up to take advantage of the talent and resources, Mica said.

The area near Embry-Riddle has space for additional business development. Volusia County has 95 acres on the south side of the airport, not far from the ERAU park, set aside as the Daytona Beach International Airport Corporate Park. There are no tenants, yet, but it would target offices and light industrial tenants and would not compete with the university's plan, said Phil Ehlinger, director of Volusia County Economic Development.

Volusia County officials also pointed out the new business incubator program being set up at the airport.

The incubator could help start-up companies get a local foothold and grow into spaces in the research park, Volusia County Chairman Frank Bruno said.

"We want to partner with companies and be on the cutting edge of the space industry. We are all excited about the potential here," he said.


© 2010 The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cincinnati chamber sending development team to Israel

By David Holthaus

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber will lead an economic development trip to Israel in November, with part of it devoted to connecting with that country's entrepreneurial and venture capital community.

It will be the chamber's first trip to the Jewish state and is the latest example of the business group expanding its overseas efforts beyond Western Europe and Japan, the traditional sites of its overseas economic development work.

The chamber will lead a group of about 20 business leaders, including representatives from Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Corporex Cos. and CincyTech.

One goal is to tap into what's described as a thriving entrepreneurial and venture capital scene, find new sources of start-up funding and link entrepreneurs from the two countries. "We want to immerse ourselves in their innovation economy and educate ourselves about how we can grow the innovation economy here," said Doug Moormann, the chamber's vice president of economic development.

Israel attracted $2 billion in venture capital in 2008, according to Startup Nation, a book that details the entrepreneurship scene in the nation of 7 million people.

Chamber officials will also meet with executives from companies interested in expanding or locating in the U.S., the traditional purpose of economic development trips.

The group will also promote the consumer marketing expertise in Cincinnati, building on the city's recent state designation and funding as a consumer marketing hub. The group will sell Cincinnati as a lower-cost alternative to New York or London for marketing and brand-design services. "It's a saleable idea," Moormann said.

The chamber has recently been looking for international business prospects beyond Western Europe and Japan. This fall, officials will make their second trip to India, for example.

Among those expected to make the Israel trip are Michael Fisher, CEO of Children's Hospital; Bill Butler, chairman of Corporex; Bob Coy, president of CincyTech; Chris Hassall, a P&G vice president; and Enquirer publisher Margaret Buchanan.

McDonnell readies European trip to market Virginia

By Olympia Meola
Published: July 16, 2010

Six months into his administration, Gov. Bob McDonnell is embarking on his first weeklong foreign trade trip to market Virginia to business interests in Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands.

A dozen people will accompany McDonnell at various points of the trip, including two Cabinet secretaries, several economic-development officials, and his wife, Maureen, who will promote the state’s tourism and wine industries.

The governor’s itinerary, from Saturday through July 24, includes meetings with various business executives and government leaders in Europe, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, and U.K. energy ministers to discuss wind energy, according to the administration. He also will visit the Farnborough International Air Show.

McDonnell and his wife will host two events, including one to market the state’s wine and tourism offerings.

The governor will be joined by James Cheng, secretary of commerce and trade; Paul Grossman, director of international trade and investment for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership; Matthias Duys, director of international investment for Virginia’s European office; Vince Barnett, director of communications and promotions for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership; MaryShea Sutherland, the first lady’s chief of staff; and Jeanette Wang, Cheng’s wife, who will pay her own way.

In London, the group will join state Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd P. Haymore, as well as two more Virginia Economic Development Partnership officials.

Alisa Bailey, president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corp., and Diane Bechamps, vice president of strategy and marketing for the Virginia Tourism Corp., will stay for the Germany and U.K. leg of the trip.

“This trade mission is an excellent opportunity to strengthen Virginia’s relationship with European companies that already have a Virginia presence and to share Virginia’s story with prospective corporate investors,“ McDonnell said in a statement yesterday.

“Over the past six years, 49 percent of new capital investment of projects worked by Virginia has come from international companies.“

The trip is expected to cost the state about $89,600.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Middle Tennessee digs deeper to land jobs

Cities say sinking economy makes incentives a must

By Bonna Johnson

When Mayor Karl Dean announced this spring that Loews Hotels would put a major service center in downtown Nashville — rather than in one of hundreds of competing cities — it was the first time in more than a decade the city had plunked down cash to lure new jobs.

It's a departure from the way former Mayor Bill Purcell ran Nashville's economic development efforts from 2000 to 2008, and one that site selection experts see as clear evidence that local leaders are willing to play more aggressively in the job-hunting game.

"That's a meaningful shift," said Adam Bruns, managing editor at Site Selection, a trade publication that tracks corporate real estate strategy and economic development.

The change in strategy comes as many state and local governments — many of them coping with tight budgets and diminished tax revenues — search for creative incentive packages and more often court small to midsized companies that they may have given less attention to in the past.

Local Chamber of Commerce officials view Dean's re-engagement and willingness to spend local money to win jobs as a game changer.

"You don't want incentives to be the leading reason a company comes, but if you're not willing to talk about it, you risk losing out on projects," said Janet Miller, chief economic development and marketing officer for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Loews promised to create 200 jobs, and city leaders pledged a $310,000 grant to reimburse the company for what it spends on information technology.

The deal was the first significant local incentive package in Nashville since then-Mayor Phil Bredesen landed Dell computers in 1999 with an agreement that offered a long-term property tax break, free use of property and $8 million worth of infrastructure such as water and sewer lines.

Dean has made economic development a top priority, but he doesn't have a set budget in mind by which he calculates the size of deals, said Alexia Poe, economic and community development director in the mayor's office.

"The mayor has said each situation is different, and each project has its own set of needs," Poe said. While he will consider tax abatements or direct cash grants if appropriate, "Giving away the store is not an option," she said.

Tax breaks are often criticized for failing to create the jobs that are promised by a company while eroding a city's tax base.

But national site selection consultant John Gutshaw said that when a company gets "down to two to three communities that really work for the project … that's when incentives become important for the tie breaker."

Everything else being equal, "you go to the place where the incentives are," said Gutshaw, a partner in Wadley-Donovan-Gutshaw Consulting of Bridgewater, N.J. More here.

Going courting in Silicon Valley

By LARRY RULISON, Business writer
First published in print: Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Local economic development officials have been in Silicon Valley for the past week, scouring the area for companies that might want to reocate in the Capital Region to be near the $4.2 billion GlobalFoundries project.

They also are attending Semicon West in San Francisco, the largest trade show of semiconductor manufacturing suppliers in North America.

Those suppliers -- companies like Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron that make equipment used in computer chip manufacturing -- are expected to supply GlobalFoundries as it completes its computer chip factory in Saratoga County over the next two years.

"We've found that they are focused on our area, and they're looking for what New York has to offer," said Dennis Brobston, president of the Saratoga Economic Development Corp., the nonprofit marketing Luther Forest Technology campus in Malta where GlobalFoundries is building. "We can help them as they go through their challenges."

Brobston and other SEDC officials went out before Semicon West to talk to suppliers. They were introduced to companies by George Lee, a well known technology consultant who runs Glimmerglass Ltd., and Adrian Maynes, strategic marketing manager for M+W U.S., the company building the GlobalFoundries project.

Although Brobston wouldn't name any of the companies he has met with, he said he expects the total number to reach two dozen before the show ends on Thursday.

"We want meaningful conversations," Brobston said.

Brobston and SEDC are part of the NY Loves Nanotech group that is exhibiting at Semicon West and is also hosting its popular dessert reception tonight in San Francisco. The group is led by the Center for Economic Growth, the Albany-based economic development organization.

CEG has been leading the contingent for 12 years, and Brian Hannafin, senior vice president of business development and marketing at CEG, said that longevity "puts us in a very strategic position to hold conversations with suppliers and other industry executives about opportunities in New York,"

It appears that there must be some substance to suppliers looking to locate here. Brobston said there are two proposals to build a total of more than 100,000 square feet of so-called "flex space" at Saratoga Technology and Energy Park, which is located next to Luther Forest. Such buildings would be desirable to suppliers who might need a combination of office and manufacturing space.

"We're going to see new things," Brobston said.

Monday, July 05, 2010

City Branding Can Impact Economic Development

by Caitlin Geary

This is the first article in a series on local economic development tools and practices. This article focuses on branding for economic development and highlights programs in Milwaukee and Lansing, Mich.
With city revenues declining, small businesses closing and consumer spending waning, cities have begun to strategically reposition their approach to economic development. Cities can use branding as a way to unite the community around a new competitive identity and to communicate their fresh approach to the outside world.

A strong community brand should be based on the assets and strengths of the city, its history and culture, the objectives of the broader economic development strategy and the collective vision and goals of residents, businesses and other community stakeholders. When a city is able to differentiate itself, build upon and showcase its local assets and present a unified front, businesses and consumers are more likely to be attracted to and invest in the community.

A brand is not something that can be purchased or even created from scratch; rather it is crafted over time through a deliberate, strategic understanding of what the community is, where it came from and what it wants to be.

For instance, Milwaukee recently began an aggressive identity-building campaign to become the “Freshwater Hub of the World.” For many years, fresh water research and water-technology companies that focus on water-energy, agriculture and other technology had been developing and prospering in the Milwaukee area. At one point, the city realized there were more than 120 water-oriented companies taking advantage of the city’s large concentration of pure, fresh water. Government and industry leaders believe that Milwaukee is in a unique position to replace its Rust Belt identity with one that builds upon the growing water-technology industry.

Many cities are also realizing the benefits of a regional identity for trade promotion and foreign direct investment. Local economic success in the global economy requires leveraging, strengthening and marketing the breadth of resources available in the region.

Public and private sector leaders in the Lansing, Mich., region increasingly realized that their greatest economic competition was coming from cities around the world, not neighboring communities, and created the Greater Lansing Economic Area Partnership. Through a regional economic development strategy and branding, the partnership offers targeted business incentives, networking opportunities, regional business development programs and workforce development programs and services. Government officials hope that coming together to showcase the region’s strengths and assets will be beneficial both individually and collectively.

In order for a brand to be effective, all stakeholders must communicate the collective vision and message. Local officials are in a unique position to ensure that economic development partners have the information that they need to support the message and to accurately convey the message to others.

Local officials can also use public speeches, interviews or contacts with prospective businesses to convey the community brand. Consistency builds support among economic development partners and other community stakeholders for the economic strategy. It can also help build trust among business owners and others interested in investing and expanding in your community.

Details: To learn more about NLC’s Center for Research and Innovation’s work on economic development, regional competitiveness and brand identity building, contact Caitlin Geary at or Christiana McFarland at

There's more to city than ‘cheap'

Savings, slogans not luring jobs - but better promotion of positives might.

By Kevin Leininger
of The News-Sentinel

Thirty-three million dollars.

That's how much Fort Wayne's top job-creation official says Navistar International Corp. could save in a single year by consolidating its engineering and corporate offices here.

So as Andi Udris and others work this week on a last-ditch, long-shot proposal they hope will keep about 1,200 Navistar jobs in Fort Wayne and perhaps attract even more, the question is obvious:

If the low cost of doing business in Fort Wayne is so good for the bottom line, why aren't Navistar and a host of other supposedly profit-driven companies lining up to come here?

The answer, I suspect, says a lot about America's corporate culture – and about this city's need to better promote what it already has instead of excessively dwelling on perceived shortcomings that may be beyond its ability to correct.

“I don't know why more companies don't come here if they want to reduce their overhead,” said Udris, who as president of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance is a key member of the city's Navistar-retention team that brought noted South Carolina site selection consultant Mark Williams to town Monday to help assemble a package attractive enough to “catch Navistar's attention.”

That package, Williams said, “could be above and beyond anything seen before.”

But if $33 million a year couldn't win the attention of a company that until recently was set to consolidate operations in the Chicago suburb of Lisle, Ill., what will?

Neither Udris nor Williams would comment on the specifics of what Fort Wayne is likely to offer in a proposal that would be at least its fourth since 2001. But Udris did discuss concerns that Navistar officials have expressed about doing business here.

Some of the concerns are obvious, and relatively easily (if expensively) addressed: The company's engineering center on Meyer Road and test track on Wayne Trace are old and in an even older industrial area near the company's former truck plant, which closed in 1983. The location and facilities, Udris said, don't exactly “wow” the engineers the company needs to recruit.

Some are being addressed but will take time, such as the company's desire for proximity to leading engineering universities.

Others, such as the desire for better air service, have been addressed in the past – with often-unpleasant results for taxpayers. And still others are mostly beyond the control of Udris and other local officials. Navistar's contract with the union representing its Fort Wayne engineers, United Auto Workers Local 2911, expires this year and Udris noted that the company's engineers in Illinois are not unionized. “We're asking (the UAW) to consider all possible options,” he said.

Union President Tom Burkholder said he hopes the coming negotiations will succeed, but said the work rules that Udris mentioned as a concern “aren't that much of an issue.”

But Udris also mentioned something I've heard expressed by others, including Parkview Health CEO Mike Packnett just last week: When well-educated, skilled workers move to Fort Wayne, they often don't want to leave. The problem is getting them here in the first place.

I guess you could call it the “sexiness” factor. Some cities have it. Fort Wayne doesn't, at least from the outside.

We've seen this before, of course. You can bet Lincoln National Corp.'s expenses went through the roof when the home-grown company moved its headquarters to Philadelphia in 1999. Then-CEO Jon Boscia at the time explained the move would give the company better access to East Coast financial markets, but it was also generally perceived that Boscia lacked the appreciation for and commitment to Fort Wayne demonstrated by his predecessor, Ian Rolland.

In short, Udris said, Fort Wayne lacks a well-known and unique “brand” that will make the city more attractive to would-be executives and the people they would need to recruit should they locate here.

What might that “brand” be?

Well, “Fort Wayne – we're cheap” makes us sound like a sleazy used-car lot.

And “Try us, you'll like us” is too similar to the 1971 ad for Alka-Seltzer. Who wants to move to a city that reminds you of a tummy ache?

But slogans alone will not keep Navistar. Nor, clearly, will cost alone. For executives who want to live near mountains and oceans, in cities perceived to have more “sex appeal,” or who simply suffer from delusions of grandeur, there is little Fort Wayne can do to change their minds. Udris and elected officials have no choice but to pursue Navistar, but might be better-served to court suitors who will appreciate what Fort Wayne has, or could become.