Tuesday, April 26, 2011

To attract new biz, befriend site selectors

by Dale Fowler
published in the Victoria Advocate

To be successful, it helps to have friends or at least contacts. This statement is especially true in the world of economic development.

One specific group of people who all economic developers need to know is the site selection consultants. Or, more importantly, we need site selectors to know us and our community.

The Victoria Economic Development Corp. recently met with 14 such consultants at one location: Austin.

Via a special invitation, Adrian Cannady, our vice president of marketing, attended a three-day conference in Austin that was the first of its kind.

You see, professional site selection consultants from around the country have come together to form a Site Selection Guild. The members of this guild represent a large percentage of the new industry locations nationally and internationally, as well as most of the very large projects.

A significant part of the VEDC marketing program is to get face-to-face with these site selectors every one or two years with information about what the Victoria region offers their clients as a place to do business. These visits are followed up with occasional emails regarding special announcements or newly available assets in the community.

The opportunity to spend quality time with a group of these consultants all at the same place was a tremendous benefit to our efforts to build lasting relationships as we market Victoria. It was just such a relationship that brought us Caterpillar.

Having so much face time with these people gave Adrian a chance to do more than just highlight the attributes of the Victoria region. He was able to learn more about what their clients are looking for as they search the United States and beyond looking for the right place for their next investment. Here are a few of his takeaways:

Companies will consider the overall state of a community when making their location decisions.

However, more important than how we are today is where we are headed. Where is this community going to be in the future?

If a company invests $150 million into our community, it plans on being here a long time. Thus, they want to know if we have a plan for the direction we want to go and they want to see that plan. Community leaders need to be able to articulate just what the plan is.

Structure your incentives around the overall impact of the project versus the number of jobs.

We have to understand that companies are in business to make a product or provide a service and turn a profit. They are not in business to employ as many people as possible.

In fact, businesses want to meet customers' demands with the minimum number of employees possible. Usually this means using more technology and fewer people but often people who are more highly skilled. In many cases, these higher skilled jobs will pay better and total payroll drives the local economy - not the number of jobs.

Most projects list the availability of commercial air service as key criteria when evaluating a community.

The most effective marketing channel is through long-term, relationship marketing which comes from repeated face-to-face visits.

One site selector said he typically receives more than 1,200 electronic brochures and mailed marketing pieces from communities each month.

With no possible way to read all that clutter, he simply deposited it all in the round file - you know, the one at the end of his desk.

On a state perspective, the group cautioned Texas not to fight yesterday's battles today.

While the state has done well over the past decade selling the notion of being a state with lower taxes and lawsuit reform, tomorrow's battle will be for talent. No matter what the statistics show, this group's perception of Texas is that we are a low education attainment state. This perception will have to change for our economic success to continue.

Our hats are off to the organizers of this great event. The good news for VEDC is that we already knew more than half of the site selectors and this event was a great way to renew the friendships.

We hope to be invited back in a few years with even more site selectors in attendance.

D. Dale Fowler is president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp.

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