Thursday, June 30, 2011

Economic group gets new name, identity.

Greenlight Greater Portland, a private-public economic development organization, has a new name along with a new brand identity and website, the group said Wednesday.

“We want the Portland-Vancouver area to become a real player in the international market, and this new brand is the first step toward building that credibility,” Greg Ness, president and CEO of StanCorp Financial Group and marketing liaison for Greater Portland Inc., said in a news release.

Underpinning the group’s new efforts are three concepts: intelligent confidence; assertive; and progressive: the capacity to lead a new direction, it said.

Greater Portland plans to fly in about 25 CEOs from around the world this fall to show what the Portland-Vancouver region has to offer.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Michigan can compete, economic chief says

Jaclyn Trop and Brian J. O'Connor/ The Detroit News

After Gov. Rick Snyder eliminated some of the tax breaks used to lure out-of-state businesses to Michigan, developers and municipalities worried that the state had unilaterally disarmed them in the midst of the war to boost jobs and tax base.

But the state's economic development chief, in an exclusive interview with The Detroit News, says Michigan will attract businesses and help existing ones by emphasizing the state's assets and the newly lowered and simplified business tax, and by launching new economic development programs.

Whispers of a $50 million deal being hatched to lure the corporate headquarters of the merged Sears and Kmart back to Kmart's original home in Metro Detroit lends credence to that assurance from Mike Finney, who took over the Michigan Economic Development Corp. in January.

"We've told those developers: There's no reason to slow down because we'll still approve your projects," Finney told The News. "We tell everyone we meet with to bring their projects forward."

Finney's agency is much more closemouthed about the prospects of bringing Sears Holdings, the firm formed when Kmart purchased Sears, back to the state where Kmart was born. But battle-hardened experts in the fight to steal jobs from other states say corporations often make a feint at relocating in order to wring tax breaks and concessions in their current homes.

Because of the enormous cost and complexity of relocating a corporate headquarters the size of the Sears operation in Hoffman Estates, Ill., concessions and incentives from Michigan would have to be at least enough to match any Illinois offer — plus moving costs.

In fact, Kmart in 2004 was on the cusp of finalizing an economic incentive package to stay in Michigan when it suddenly halted discussions and announced the merger with Sears that emptied out the vast Kmart headquarters building that still stands empty on Big Beaver Road in Troy.

If Michigan does move to entice Sears, it won't be with incentives, according to earlier comments Finney made before the rumors started swirling.

Incentives — rather than Michigan's quality of life, cost of doing business and talented work force — "were an awful way to sell" the state, Finney said.

"You should be promoting based on your assets," he said.

Incentives back in line
The budget Snyder signed last week provides $125 million in incentives for business development and $25 million for film incentives. That number is roughly on par with the $150 million in annual tax credits some Michigan businesses received from the development corporation on average from 2000 to 2008, Finney said.

The state hiked its tax break spending to an estimated $199 million in 2009 and $219 million last year after the Legislature loosened the criteria for tax break programs. The increased spending was unsustainable, and the new budget will bring the amount of the incentives in line with pre-recession times, Finney said. But the new budget also eliminated incentives that promoted the redevelopment of contaminated or old properties through brownfield and historic preservation tax credits.

The state's decision to replace the complicated Michigan Business Tax, an obstacle to business attraction, with a flat 6 percent tax will more than offset the loss of brownfield and historic preservation tax credits to develop contaminated or obsolete sites, Finney said. The repeal amounts on average to an 80 percent tax cut for businesses, he said.

And while some developers are worried about the loss of the old tax breaks, the development agency will make up for them with a new program of loans, investments and grants, Finney said.

A working group is developing the details for the new $100 million business attraction program that replaces the Michigan Economic Growth Authority, and brownfield and historic tax credits, said a development corporation spokesman. The group may have a plan ready for the agency's board to approve in late August for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, he said.

Tactic gives cities pause
But cities and developers remain on edge about the new approach, said Andy Schor, assistant director of state affairs for the Michigan Municipal League.

"There is a lot of nervousness among my members and developers" because there is less money to do redevelopment projects with state-sponsored financing, he said.

But "we are cautiously optimistic" about the new $100 million program because the league is being consulted about it and likes its initial direction, Schor said. The one drawback is that the money is being split between business attraction and redevelopment — instead of being devoted solely to redevelopment, as the league was led to believe, he said.

If that's the case, the rumored $50 million package of incentives for Sears could eat up a big chunk of the program's cash, although some of that cost would be borne by the county or city where the retail giant would end up landing, bringing an estimated 5,000 jobs. The speculation is that one potential site is on Ford Road in Dearborn, and the other in Southfield, with both Wayne and Oakland counties assisting the development corporation in structuring an offer.

Representatives of Oakland and Wayne counties, as well as a spokesman for the development corporation, wouldn't comment or confirm the rumors Monday. Sears has not confirmed or denied the reports, which also claim the firm is considering making the move to New Jersey, Texas, Tennessee or North Carolina.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Headquarters come and go - it's jobs that count


The Triangle: A great place to live and work; not so great for a corporate headquarters.

You'd never hear this region's boosters utter such a line, but it's hard not to at least think it after a week in which the Triangle received another economic pat on the back and downtown Raleigh lost another headquarters.

The accolade came from the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, which ranked the Triangle among the 20 strongest performing metro areas in the U.S. through the first quarter.

The lost headquarters, of course, is RBC Bank, which is being bought by Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Group for $3.45 billion. News of the deal comes less than six months after Duke Energy announced it would acquire Raleigh-based Progress Energy and locate the merged company's headquarters in Charlotte.

The mergers are sure to result in job losses, and possibly reduced real estate footprints.

But there's an argument to be made that, both from a commercial real estate standpoint and an economic standpoint, the damage is mostly cosmetic.

"I don't think it matters as much as long as there are people here creating jobs," said Andrew Kelton, head of CB Richard Ellis' asset services group in Raleigh. "It hurts to lose the prestige of it, but this is just simple business."

It's still growing

As a tertiary market, the Triangle has never been home to a large number of corporate headquarters.

At the moment, the region has two Fortune 500 companies - the Pantry in Cary and the soon-to-depart Progress.

That hasn't hindered the Triangle's growth, as many large companies have flocked to the region to set up research-and-development and back-office operations. Boston-based Fidelity Investments, for example, has added hundreds of local employees during the past five years and now employs more than 2,200 here.

"We're seeing jobs being created; they're just not being created by Fortune 500 headquarters," Kelton said. "We have a lot of activity right now in the 2,000- to 5,000-square-foot range. That's a good sign for the economy. For us in real estate that fills the holes that usually sit empty."

Among the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S., the Raleigh-Cary market ranked No. 1 in employment growth from the fourth quarter of 2010 to the first quarter this year, according to the Brookings report.

The job creators

The Triangle benefits from being home to lots of small companies, as opposed to relying heavily on a few larger employers, said Jim Anthony, a Raleigh real estate investor.

"They are not the real job creators when you look at the numbers," he said. "I'd rather have job-creating companies than headquarters of companies that are stagnant or shrinking."

The most obvious downside to this region's dearth of corporate headquarters is that it makes revitalizing downtown areas that much harder.

Both Durham and Raleigh are trying to build up the density of workers and residents in their downtowns.

Each downtown has a number of proposed office projects that will require a large anchor tenant to get built. In Raleigh, there's Charter Square at the south end of Fayetteville Street and Edison across Blount Street from City Market.

In Durham, there's the Diamond View III office building planned for American Tobacco Campus and the old Woolworth's site, where Greenfire Development hopes to build a new office tower.

Sometimes a ploy

Few large tenants are trying to relocate, and many that are looking simply use the exercise as a way to extract more incentives from their hometowns.

"Getting a large corporate relocation is no picnic," Anthony said. "It's a very competitive marketplace and a lot of the companies that were going to (move) have already done so."

This explains the euphoria over Red Hat's decision to stick around.

The software firm started in Durham, moved to Raleigh and is now looking for 300,000 to 400,000 square feet in Wake County.

The lesson being, instead of trying to persuade a corporation to relocate, the Triangle is probably better off nurturing its own. or 919-829-4548

Friday, June 24, 2011

Officials meet to discuss possible alliance

By Shajia Ahmad - Special to The News

LIBERAL - All there is in southwest Kansas is dust and wheat.

That belief, according to several who are looking to form a regional economic partnership, is a common and frustrating misperception by outsiders, and a hindrance to economic development across the region.


The Southwest Kansas Chambers Of Commerce hosted a retreat-like planning and development meeting Thursday at the Rock Island Depot in Liberal to discuss these challenges and begin working toward what they hope will become the Southwest Kansas Alliance.

Several dozen local and state leaders were in attendance for the two-plus hour planning session, including state senators and representatives from southwest Kansas, city and county commissioners, and other business and community leaders from Garden City, Dodge City, Liberal, Ulysses, Hugoton and Scott City, just to name a few.

Paul Joseph, president of the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce and additionally the leader of the southwest Kansas chambers group, said that today's global economy dictates that communities work together to compete for economic development.

Joseph said that while the idea to organize a regional economic partnership has been discussed for many years, only in the past year or so did the Southwest Kansas Chambers move forward with this plan, especially important in today's competing global market, he said.

"We, as southwest Kansans, must compete or die. No longer are our competitors other (southwest Kansas) communities. ... other regions in the nation or even Mexico," Joseph said. "In today's new world economy, our competitors are the likes of Pakistan, India, China, Brazil."

Many local leaders in attendance agreed that for much of recent history most southwest Kansas communities - especially the three most populated ones in Finney, Ford and Seward counties - have competed aggressively with each other for economic development and other opportunities that better their own communities.

That competing mind-set, many agreed, needs to change to tackle issues that plague most all southwest Kansas communities, such as stagnant job growth and tourism, declining rural populations, and limited transportation.

Increasing communication between the various localities to promote economic development for all, and to come up with a brand that would help identify southwest Kansas to the rest of the world are some of the ideas leaders gathered Thursday agreed are pertinent to regional economic success.

"From Scott City to Liberal, we're very unique. But we can work as a region and still maintain that identity at a local level," Joseph said.

Another desired success of a regional economic group, many agreed Thursday, was to tackle the "brain drain" issues plaguing many rural areas.

Garden City Mayor John Doll said more high-paying and specialized jobs born from greater economic development is essential to "keeping our kids home."

The Southwest Kansas Chambers of Commerce invited Joe Yager, a sole staff member of REAP of South Central Kansas, a regional economic area partnership consisting of nearly 40 cities and counties in and around Wichita, to facilitate Thursday's convention.

REAP's stated purpose is to guide state and national actions that affect economic development in the region by adopting joint actions among member governments that enhance their regional economy, and chamber leaders said they want to see the idea modeled in southwest Kansas.

Yager told southwest Kansas leaders that by beginning to identify their purpose and prioritizing regional opportunities, the group could begin branding themselves as a region and combat outside misperceptions.

"We want you to recognize the common themes," Yager said Thursday. "You need a decent idea of why you're here and who you are."

State Rep. Reynaldo Mesa, R-Garden City, reminded everyone that commitment, including fiscal commitment, was key to moving forward with an organizational structure that could ultimately benefit economic growth all across the region.

"These things are not just going to happen on their own," Mesa said.

The Southwest Kansas Chambers of Commerce has tentatively set up another Southwest Kansas Alliance meeting for 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 18 in Garden City, according to Rozelle Webb, executive director of Liberal Kansas Chamber of Commerce. A location has not yet been determined.

Webb said she was pleased with the attendance Thursday, and she and other southwest Kansas chamber executives are working to get some of the other outlying and smaller communities in the region involved.

"We'll know pretty well by next meeting or two the (level of) commitment from people," Webb said. "As far as the Southwest Kansas Chambers, we're determined to continue with this because it's so important. We can't drop it for any reason."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Giving Cobb an EDGE: Chamber aims to boost economic development through program

by Katy Ruth Camp

MARIETTA — What’s in it for me?

That’s the question the Cobb Chamber of Commerce aims to answer with its new, six-month economic development program, Cobb’s Competitive EDGE.

The Chamber’s CEO, chief operating officer and three of the county’s top business executives visited the Journal on Tuesday to unveil the initiative they say will assist in attracting and keeping businesses — and jobs — in Cobb.

“We want to take a leadership role and be sure this community attracts jobs and invests in the future,” said Chamber President and CEO David Connell. “Jobs and investments are the best ways for a community to grow, from a prosperity standpoint.”

The Chamber hired Atlanta-based Market Street Services to conduct the program, called Cobb’s Competitive EDGE — or Economic Development for a Growing Economy — in June. Connell said the program will likely cost $180,000 to $200,000, but no taxpayer money will be used to fund the initiative. The program will involve a four-part process, almost identical to Gwinnett County’s recent initiative, Partnership Gwinnett, said Demming Bass, the Chamber’s chief operating officer.

Bass, who was hired by the Cobb Chamber in December, was the key figure in the Gwinnett initiative launched in 2006 and implemented in 2007 when he served as the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of marketing and public policy from April 2005 to December.

But this program will be bigger and better than Gwinnett’s, Bass said, as Cobb has more to offer than the county it is most often compared to.

“Cobb has phenomenal assets in place already. The problem is, I don’t think we’ve done a good job of telling our story,” Bass said. “Even internally, within our own county. For example — I had a conversation with the CEO of the (Cumberland area-based) Weather Channel, and he said they don’t have a problem recruiting anchors, but most of their hires are software engineers. He said they struggle with finding those workers but get a lot from Georgia Tech. So I asked him about (Southern Polytechnic State University), and he wasn’t that familiar with their programs, so now we’re putting them in touch. So if people locally don’t even know about the assets we have here in Cobb, then we need to do a better job of marketing both internally and externally.”

The four phases include competitive assessment, target cluster analysis, economic and community development strategy, and economic and community development implementation plan. The competitive assessment phase will include one-on-one interviews with major public figures such as former Gov. Roy Barnes and current Attorney General Sam Olens, focus groups with targeted business groups such as young professionals, public surveys and data collection. The survey can be filled out online now through July 11 by anyone who wishes to take it, Connell said. That survey can be accessed at

Some of the data that will be used and analyzed could include demographic information and recent business trends in Cobb, Bass said. This phase will also include comparisons to three other communities being identified as most similar to Cobb, such as Gwinnett County; Wake County, N.C. — which Bass said is fast growing and known as the “research triangle” for its higher education similarities — and Collin County, Texas — which is just outside of Dallas and has similar business corridors, Bass said.

The results of the first phase of analysis will be revealed and available to the public by the end of August, Bass said.

The second phase includes an analysis of the most important existing and the most promising niche industries for the county to focus its marketing, such as health care and aeronautics. Once those are identified, marketing Cobb to potential businesses becomes easier and more feasible, Connell said. This will conclude and be revealed by the end of September, Bass said.

The third phase will involve the program’s steering committee — made up of 39 of Cobb’s top business, education, civic and political leaders — taking the data that has been collected and developing a five-year economic and community development strategy, which will serve as the blueprint for Cobb’s immediate and long-term goals, Bass said. This will be presented to the public sometime between October and December, Bass said.

The fourth and final phase involves the committee’s creation of an implementation plan that will enable the Chamber and government leaders to “hit the ground running” with the strategy’s goals, Bass said.

That plan will likely focus on how to generate high-wage job growth in the county, said steering committee member Heath Garrett, a Marietta attorney. And Menefee and Styf agreed those high-wage jobs are necessary not only to keep their workforces strong, but also to generate revenues within their companies as those employees will be able to pay for their own health care, instead of requiring subsidies.

“The purpose is to get everybody on same page — retaining and recruiting high-wage jobs,” Garrett said. “If we can get and keep those jobs here, the county will prosper, people will be healthier and Cobb will be the kind of community companies around the world want to come to.”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

After a year, impact of Whirlpool closing is mixed

By Susan Orr

EVANSVILLE — It's been a full year since Whirlpool's Evansville refrigerator production reached the end of the line, putting more than 1,000 people out of work.

In August 2009, the manufacturer announced plans to shut down the Evansville plant and move those jobs to a plant in Mexico. In March 2010, the plant eliminated its second shift, and on June 26 production ceased.

The plant shutdown cost some 1,200 employees, most of them hourly production workers, their jobs and brought uncertainty to the Evansville-area economy.

"When you take 1,000 manufacturing jobs out of any market — I don't care how large your market is — there's going to be some impact," said Greg Wathen, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana.

Whirlpool still maintains its Evansville refrigeration design center where 300 people — most of them engineers — work on designing new products.

Last year, the best anyone could offer was predictions on the economic impact of Whirlpool ending production. The economic impact is still difficult to pin down. Some parties were hurt significantly, others not at all. Some impacts are yet to be determined, and others will likely never be fully known.

The shutdown happened during a time of great challenges for the housing market, the automotive industry and other segments of the national economy. All of those factors affect each other, making it hard to quantify the exact local impact of the plant closure. "They (Whirlpool) contributed to a downturn in our economy, but it's difficult to say 'this' contributed to 'what,'" Wathen said. "There were just so many things going on at the same time."

Whirlpool declined to comment for this story other than to provide brief factual information: Whirlpool has nine U.S. plants with approximately 23,500 employees, including about 17,000 manufacturing employees; the company expects to retain its design center in Evansville.


What happened to that group of workers isn't easy to determine. Unemployment statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics don't provide much clarity.

Vanderburgh County had 8,321 unemployed residents in March 2010. In April — the earliest that the first wave of displaced workers would show up in the numbers — the number of unemployed dropped to 7,904. In July — when others who lost their jobs would have started showing up in the numbers — that number was 8,256.

There are numerous reasons why unemployment numbers don't line up exactly with reality. The numbers are based on sampling and surveys, not an actual count of the unemployed.

"I wouldn't put too much stock in these numbers reflecting all the unemployed workers," said Sudesh Mujumdar, chairman of the economics and marketing department at the University of Southern Indiana.

"You won't get every person who's unemployed showing up in that count."

Another factor, Mujumdar said, is all jobs are not created equal. He's talked to several people who took new jobs paying significantly less than they earned at Whirlpool.

This, Mujumdar said, echoes a national trend he described as the "hollowing-out of the middle class" — as people lose middle-income jobs, they may only be able to find lower paying jobs, moving them down the socio-economic scale.

"These are the things that get masked when looking only at the (unemployment) rates," Mujumdar said. "It has big implications for our social fabric."

Unemployment numbers also don't account for displaced workers who chose to retire or attend school full-time and are thus not currently looking for work. A significant portion of the Whirlpool workers fall into one of these categories.

Because their jobs were lost to foreign competition, the Whirlpool workers were eligible to receive Trade Adjustment Assistance. The program, popularly known as TAA, is a federal program that provides financial assistance for things like training, education and job-search expenses. The goal is to get displaced workers back into the workforce.

About 400 former Whirlpool workers are taking part in the TAA program and are enrolled in a training, certification or degree program, said Valerie Kroeger, communications director for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Sandie Nelson, director of workforce and economic development at Ivy Tech Community College, said that during the recent spring semester, the school had 183 students who were receiving TAA funding. The majority of those were former Whirlpool workers, Nelson said.

Other Whirlpool workers attend Ivy Tech using Pell Grant money, a federal program provides funds to low-income college students.

Ivy Tech also offered eight-week sessions in basic math, English, computer skills and leadership training to 190 displaced workers, most of them through Whirlpool.

Some former Whirlpool workers may yet enroll in school, Nelson said — she's holding an information session in July for displaced workers interested in short-term training opportunities.

And there are certainly a number of students who enrolled at another school besides Ivy Tech or dropped out, Nelson said.

"It is hard data to hold down and grab onto."

But as a whole, Nelson said, the former Whirlpool workers have proven to be "very dedicated students" at Ivy Tech.

Many formed study groups and met to do schoolwork on campus in between classes.

"They came in the morning and would stay all day. They treated it like it was a job," Nelson said.

Others chose to leave the workforce altogether, Kroeger said.

Because Whirlpool's workforce tended to be older, Kroeger said, "They had a really high percentage who could retire."

Suppliers impacted differently

On one end of the scale is Fortis Plastics, which shut down its injection molding plant in Henderson, Ky. because of Whirlpool's departure. The Fortis closure in November, cost 60 employees their jobs.

Fortis could not be reached for this story. But in an interview last fall with The Gleaner, Henderson's daily newspaper, Fortis President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Mallak said Whirlpool represented a large percentage of Fortis' business, and after the local Whirlpool closure the company couldn't find enough new business to make up the difference.

Another local Whirlpool supplier had an entirely different outcome.

Evansville-based Master Manufacturing, which has 40 employees, makes parts for the appliance and the automotive industries.

Master Manufacturing is doing more business than ever with the appliance maker.

"We've actually grown our business with Whirlpool over the past year or two," said Tim Chancellor, vice president and general manager at Master Manufacturing.Whirlpool, Chancellor said, makes up about 25 to 30 percent of his company's business.

"They were our biggest customer, and they still are," Chancellor said.

The Evansville plant closure wasn't a big issue for Master Manufacturing, Chancellor said, because his company supplies Whirlpool plants in numerous locations, including Mexico.

"There was a time 20 years ago when it would have been maybe pretty devastating because we were pretty exclusive with this (Evansville) plant," Chancellor said. "We had diversified, even within Whirlpool, over the last four or five years."

Much of that diversification push, Chancellor said, came at the direction of company president and owner John Gannon.

Also working in Master Manufacturing's favor, Chancellor said, is that Whirlpool retained its product design center here.

If Whirlpool comes up with a new refrigerator design, that might affect the type of parts it needs from Master Manufacturing. So it's very convenient for the two companies to be located near each other.

"It's hard to beat a face-to-face meeting, especially when you're engineering something," Chancellor said.

Still awaiting the tax impact

Whirlpool's plant shutdown will also affect the tax rolls, though the full impact hasn't been seen.

Last year, Vanderburgh County Treasurer Rick Davis prepared a report for the Vanderburgh County Council estimating the tax impact of the Whirlpool plant closure.

Tax revenue from a manufacturing operation includes property taxes on a company's building and land; personal property taxes on the equipment inside the building; and county option income tax revenues, or COIT, paid by employees based on their earnings.

Whirlpool has shipped out or sold much of the equipment that had been in the plant, which reduces the taxable value of its personal property at the Evansville facility.

Davis wrote that in a "worst-case scenario" of all the plant's property being shipped out and all former Whirlpool workers remaining jobless, "Vanderburgh County taxpayers will have to make up $1.9 million in combined COIT and personal property tax totals due to Whirlpool's closing."

Because of the lag time built into the tax-collection schedule, Davis wrote, the full impact of the closure won't be felt until 2013.

In a recent phone interview, Davis said that worst-case scenario won't come to pass, because many of those workers have found other jobs and are paying COIT taxes on those earnings.

But, Davis said, if those jobs are lower paying than the Whirlpool jobs, the county receives less tax revenue than before.

Although the full tax implications of the closure are not yet evident, Davis said, overall "it was not a good thing."

Reasons for optimism

In April, The Kunkel Group announced it paid $2.9 million for 1.2 million square feet of the former Whirlpool plant, the majority of the property.

Whirlpool retained ownership of a portion of the property, and it is leasing back some of the space that Kunkel purchased.

In May, Evansville-based CrossPoint Polymer Technologies, a plastics company founded last year, announced it would lease about 110,000 square feet of the former Whirlpool plant from Kunkel.

Chuck Harper, vice president of The Kunkel Group Realty, said additional tenant announcements are pending soon.

"We have other tenants but we're not ready to make those announcements yet," Harper said.

The goal is to fill the space with manufacturing and warehousing tenants, Harper said.

Harper said the property was appealing to Kunkel because it's in good physical condition, in a desirable location near the Evansville Regional Airport and was available for a good price.

Also, Harper said, Kunkel has experience in buying existing buildings and repurposing them for new use. The company did this with the former Welborn Hospital in Downtown Evansville, which now houses office space and the Riverwalk Communities assisted living center; two former Downtown department stores that were converted to condominiums; and the old Knights of Columbus facility Downtown, which will be an independent living facility.

"Our ethos is to take properties that for whatever reason are not in use any more and try to put them back on the productive tax rolls," Harper said.

Economic study

Work is nearing completion on a regional economic study made possible by the Whirlpool plant closure.

Soon after the plant shutdown, the city of Evansville announced that it and the Evansville Regional Airport intended to purchase and develop the site into a product-design park. The Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana secured a $231,482 federal grant to help fund those redevelopment plans, but when those plans fell through Wathen's group received permission to use that money for a study of the region's economic assets and growth possibilities.

Wathen said the study will likely be made public in August.

One major focus of the study, Wathen said, is looking how different parts of the regional economy could fit together. For instance, if a certain industry shows potential for local growth, are there sufficient resources for training new workers in that industry?

The study's findings, Wathen said could help bridge the skills gap that displaced workers may face in trying to find a new job.

"In this area, we still have to work on having better alignment between the opportunities that exist," Wathen said.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Further cuts would damage GYEDC, Engel says


Already facing a budget reduction of $38,000, a further cut in funding from the city of Yuma would be damaging to the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation, said GYEDC President and CEO Julie Engel.

“It will mean we have to reduce our marketing and we will have to reduce our staff by one person, and this is an awful time to reduce our marketing efforts.”

GYEDC helps local businesses network abroad, and offers national and international companies data and information about local economic conditions and opportunities.

The city of Yuma has proposed providing GYEDC with $200,000 for fiscal year 2011-2012 — short of the $247,500 GYEDC projected receiving.

The city council is considering the possibility of providing the amount requested by GYEDC, but would have to approve that with a majority vote. The Council is scheduled to discuss the matter July 6.

Yuma County has already adopted a budget which reduces funding to GYEDC by $3,000, while the city of San Luis has adopted a budget which reduces funding by $35,000, Engel said.

If the Yuma City Council does not approve the funding increase, the GYEDC would have to make due with a budget which is $85,500 smaller than last year.

City of Yuma Administrator Greg Wilkinson said the reduction isn't a slight against GYEDC, but rather matches what other municipalities have done with their budgets.

“I think the biggest thing is trying to share the cost,” he explained. “GYEDC is a regional entity, and we wanted to make sure there was a good cost share between all the different agencies that supported it.”

The reduction was an important step to keep the budget balanced, Wilkinson said.

“GYEDC does a good job, but obviously there is a tight budget for everybody and we are trying to look at a better balance for what all the different entities were contributing.”

Over the last three years, GYEDC has gone from a $900,000 yearly budget to a $500,000 yearly budget, Engel said.

“We are barely hanging on now, and every time they chip a little bit more, it affects us immediately.”

Several prominent business professionals have voiced their support for GYEDC, and have called on the city council to restore funding.

“You've really got to have somebody out there churning the market, making sure Yuma is being exposed, and that you are not missing any leads and that the leads that are there are being handled,” said Thomas J. Pancrazi, owner of A.T. Pancrazi Real Estate. “GYEDC is doing a very good job of handling that.”

Craig Williams, Yuma International Airport manager, said a reduction in funding could undermine the success of business at the airport in the future.

“From our perspective, that would place in jeopardy the economic development efforts that we have been working on for quite a long time.”

GYEDC has played a major part in bringing millions of dollars in business to the airport through new projects, including the defense contractor complex which will house engineers and scientists who will work on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter when it arrives at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in a few years, he added.

“The defense contractor complex — you look at the tenants we are talking about and these are large global corporations that are going to bring lots of jobs into the city.”

Investing in GYEDC is investing in the future, Williams said.

“We are not working on short-term problems, we are working on economic development that is going to bring jobs into the city for our kids over the long haul.”

The defense contractor complex will bring invaluable jobs to the hard-hit construction industry in Yuma, said Nate Schug, president of Westmoor Electrical.

“GYEDC put this thing together and we've been successful and a lot of money has been awarded in contracts here. Believe me, to people in my business that means a lot. This is a successful thing for the city of Yuma, and again GYEDC has been instrumental in it. It is going to bring hope, it is going to bring jobs, it's going to bring money to a lot of people in Yuma.”

With the recent cuts in funding made to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), Pat Walz, president and CEO of YRMC, said GYEDC is essential to the hospital.

“The hospital itself... has seen a reduction for the next fiscal year of about $17 million in revenue.”

The goal of GYEDC is to bring new jobs to Yuma, which indirectly helps YRMC, Walz added.

“It brings business people who are getting paid wages and have health care benefits to help obviate some of the cuts we get from the government.”

Chris McDaniel can be reached at or 539-6849.

Midland Development Corp.: Working to make Midland known, build relationships with potential companies

Kathleen Thurber
Midland Reporter-Telegram Midland Reporter-Telegram

With a thriving oil economy and shortage of workers for companies already in Midland, some city council members have questioned how much recruiting of outside businesses needs to take place.

The Midland Development Corp. has spent nearly $200,000 since the start of fiscal year 2009 in travel to trade shows and expos where its staff works to connect with companies in hopes of bringing a business to the Tall City. From the 4,253 contacts made between the more than 40 shows visited, no major company has selected Midland as a site for expansion during that time.

Staff, board members and some council members said part of the issue is that it simply takes time to land a deal through that process. Continuing to get Midland's name out there by visiting shows and fostering relationships already started is just how economic development works, they said. However, as Midland continues to expand, council and MDC board members said they're also looking at where the development corporation's priorities should be in the future. Some recruitment will always be necessary, most agreed, but a bigger emphasis on infrastructure development and investments in already existing Permian Basin businesses may also become a greater priority.

"When we voted for the sales tax, the 4A, our economy was completely different back then. The oil and gas industry was in a decline, we needed to bring new businesses in," said Scott Dufford, at-large city councilman, who brought the issue of business recruitment up at this year's city council retreat. "With new technology and the price of oil, we really don't need to be bringing in new businesses."


MDC President Mike Hatley said certainly he wishes economic development was a guarantee, where putting in a certain amount of work and making a certain number of contacts automatically led to a deal. But, he said, it's dependent upon a lot of factors and is a competitive process that sometimes can take several years of work with a company before seeing something come to fruition.

"Communities have to work hard to get in front of people. It's probably the most competitive thing I know," he said. "I know a lot of people thought you pass a tax and that's a guarantee. It's a guarantee you're in the game."

Board President Robert Rendall agreed and said they also are continuing to tweak their strategies to ensure all the mechanisms are in place for success.

"There's just a lot of give and take and you just have to be patient through the process," Rendall said. "It's not dissimilar from doing all the preparation work for drilling an oil and gas well. You've got to locate the leases, do the geophysical work, make sure everything is in place and then hopefully you're successful."

When selecting shows to visit, Hatley said, they target the industries they've identified as most likely to fit into Midland's economy. At some shows, they also work with other cities in the region to market West Texas as a whole and have a larger presence than they could alone, Hatley said.

Aviation has been a main priority, though they're working with others, as well.

Marvin Esterly, director of airports, attended the MRO Americas show in Miami with three MDC staff members and told his board they were able to make several promising contacts, in part, because the MDC had visited the show before and attendees already were aware of Midland and what it has to offer.

The exhibitor fee alone for the show totaled $13,497.41, with costs for lodging, transportation and food during the trip coming in at $5,649.45, according to receipts provided through a Texas Public Information Act request.

Esterly and Hatley said when they can bring an MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) business to the airport, it should open the doors to additional aviation industry growth in this area and more jobs.

"Our No. 1 potential area is in the aviation business," Hatley said. "Everybody in West Texas who uses our airport realizes how important that is -- that's our lifeblood."

After making contacts at a show -- which could come through casual conversations, meetings already set up or interested parties visiting a booth -- MDC staff get in touch with that business through e-mail blasts, phone calls or both methods to keep the relationship going.

If the contact is a true lead, Hatley said, their next step is to bring company leaders to Midland for a visit. From there, they work not to get eliminated from the list of potential places a business is considering.

Staying in the game

Hatley said a lot of any economic development entity's recruitment success has to do with the national economy. The aviation industry is starting to recover, he said, but other businesses, such as the wind industry, still are in a lull as far as expansion goes.

"Our national economy -- we have a hard time knowing this here -- I don't think you could even say it's close to recovering," he said.

But, he said, they continue attending shows like the Renewable Energy World Conference and Expo earlier this year, which came at a cost to the MDC of $16,214.39, because they think the industry has a future in Texas. While that may mean companies at that show will take longer in considering expansion, if the MDC isn't there at all, they're not ever going to be considered, Hatley said.

"We spend a lot of our time and resources trying to get those relationships built up," he said.

Jerry Morales, at-large city councilman, said knowing the national economy is struggling and the potential for recruiting success is limited, he thinks the MDC's participation in such trade shows could me smaller.

"Are we getting our money's worth when we send staff out there? Because in the last few years we haven't seen results," he said. "It's important we have a presence out there, but definitely I think you can scale back."

John James, councilman for District 3, said while the emphasis on outside recruitment could be lessened at times, it always needs to remain a part of their efforts. With the current local economy, he said, they may invest more in workforce development. But, the MDC also has to anticipate for where the economy will go in the future with its other activities.

"The strategies change depending on what your local economy is like," he said. "You never stop recruiting, you never stop workforce development, you never stop investing in infrastructure."

Future focus

David Mims, former MDC chairman and current board member, said it has always been difficult for him to understand the long process recruiting requires.

"It was hard for me to understand what I call the long incubation period once you identify a prospect," Mims said. "On the one hand that's inefficient salesmanship, but on the other hand that seems to be the way the game is played across the board."

As a board, he said, they've tried to establish a way to at least monitor the progress that's being made through contacts. He said they also still are modifying the recruitment and marketing processes, but the lack of landing a major company through the trade show method isn't because there wasn't effort on the staff's part.

In the grand scheme, the amount of funds spent through the tax fund on outside business recruitment is small in comparison with other initiatives, board members pointed out. The MDC has invested up to $6 million in installing a water line along Highway 191 with the goal of seeing business development because of infrastructure.

Those types of investments is what Mayor Wes Perry and other council members said they would like to see more of in the future. But, citizens also still are saying they want Midland's economy diversified and in the economic development world, traveling, at least to some degree, is a big part of how that's done, Perry said.

"What I'm hearing from the council and the MDC board is infrastructure makes sense. If a little bit is going to trade shows to try to keep that diversification open, then that's what we should do," Perry said. "I don't think it's as high a priority as it was five years ago."

Morales and Dufford said they would support more investment in programs that sustain or help grow businesses already in West Texas.

With a shortage of available workers and housing, Dufford said even if the MDC brings in a large company, Midland doesn't have a way to accommodate them right now.

"Recruiting in my mind is a waste of time with our economy," he said.

The MDC does work each year to recruit employees with an interest of working in Midland, which council members said they support.

Between fiscal year 2009 and April of fiscal year 2011, it invested $5,341.49 in visiting job fairs and career expos, according to information obtained through a Texas Public Information Act request. Because employees apply directly with companies, the MDC has no record of how many individuals have come to Midland as a result of their efforts, though staff say they see a lot of interest in the area.

Rendall and Mims said as they continue to assess processes, they're confident investments in outside recruiting will lead to new development in Midland. As a board, they're also assessing whether the scope of outside recruitment could be narrowed, Mims said.

"There are substantial amounts of money being used to promote the city," Rendall said. "Are we going to get a return for that investment? My personal feeling is at some point we will, but other people might think we ought to do something different with that."

Kathleen Thurber can be reached at

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scott Stays Laser-Focused on Economic Development

By: Gray Rohrer

A day after he took steps to coordinate economic development in Florida among many agencies, Gov. Rick Scott highlighted his recent trade mission to Canada, hinting that more jobs could be migrating to the Sunshine State.

In a move designed to streamline Florida’s economic development efforts, Scott signed SB 2156 Tuesday, creating the Department of Economic Opportunity, and doing away with other state agencies.

The new law gets rid of the Department of Community Affairs, an agency much-derided by businesses in recent years for imposing cumbersome regulations that impede growth. The DCA’s planning department will come under the new DEO, as well as some of the functions of the Agency for Workforce Innovation. The changes won’t take place until Oct. 1, when the law goes into effect.

Scott said the new law, which also ropes in the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development into the new agency, will make it easier to offer economic incentives to businesses thinking of relocating to Florida.

“In today’s globally competitive marketplace, Florida must be able to respond quickly and decisively when business opportunities come our way. The bill I signed (Tuesday) provides us flexibility to seize opportunities created by developing markets and effectively respond to the changing needs of the businesses that grow our economy,” Scott said.

In stump speeches and since taking office in January, Scott has stated his desire to be known as the “jobs governor.” With that in mind, he has been nearly single-minded in his approach to economic development, pushing for the shake-up among state agencies, and taking a greater role in luring companies to Florida.

SB 2156 also gives Scott the ability to gather and spend incentive packages of as much as $2 million to entice businesses to the Sunshine State, and reduces red tape so companies can take advantage of incentives in 10 days as opposed to the current process which can take more than one month.

Scott is known for cold-calling businesses, trying to get them to relocate to Florida, but last week he took his hard-selling approach one step further, leading a trade mission to Canada.

During the mission he announced that three Canadian companies -- who were in discussions with local economic development councils before Scott took office -- would be opening up headquarters or starting new operations in Florida, creating more than 200 jobs.

On a teleconference call Wednesday, Scott and economic development officers from across Florida suggested more jobs could be on the way.

Joe Martinez, director of international economic development for The Beacon Council, Miami’s economic development organization, said his group met with 38 companies during the trade mission, including aviation and biotech companies in their target industries, which yielded five viable projects that could create another 200 jobs in Miami-Dade County.

Gray Swoope, whom Scott brought in to head up Enterprise Florida, the state’s other economic development branch, and who will take on the title of secretary of commerce when the new law goes into effect, praised Scott for taking the lead on economic development.

“It’s great to have a governor as chief economic development officer out there telling our story,” Swoope said.

Reach Gray Rohrer at or at (850) 727-0859.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Development officials urge localities to think regionally

Written by
Calvin Trice

STAUNTON — Augusta County and the two cities within its borders should market themselves as a team to bring manufacturing and development projects to the area, local and state officials said Tuesday.

The economic development directors of Augusta County and Waynesboro and an assistant director for Staunton touted what they believe are positive signs in the last year during a breakfast held by the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Looking ahead, Del. Richard P. "Dickie" Bell, R-Staunton, stressed during an impromptu speech at the end of the meeting the importance of marketing the two cities and counties together to bring development and jobs to the area.

Bell is a former Staunton City Councilman who can remember when the three localities marketed their interests competitively.

"I can tell you it's a huge advantage when you operate regionally," he said at the Chamber's Business and Breakfast meeting inside the Brightview at Baldwin Park retirement home.

The head of the Shenandoah Valley Regional Partnership, an organization that markets an area including the Augusta region for business development, said the ability to brand large areas across many jurisdictions is appealing to manufacturers looking to relocate or expand.

Robin Sullenberger, the partnership's CEO, said he's teamed the Valley organization up with similar partnerships for the Roanoke and New River Valley areas.

"We are basically marketing the I-81 corridor as one super-region," Sullenberger said during the breakfast panel discussion.g

Staunton's assistant economic development director said her city saw a payoff from an under-appreciated aspect of bringing jobs into the area: catering to existing businesses. That approach helped bring plans for a $16 million expansion at home-grown Cadence, Inc., that will bring 65 new jobs to the city in the next three years, Amanda Glover said.

"Existing businesses are the highest source of new job creation," said Glover, adding that they are the engines of the local economy.

Similarly, Waynesboro Economic Development Director Greg Hitchin pointed to the Polymer Group, Inc. expansion announced last year that will bring a total of 41 new jobs by the end of the year.

"That project is moving along very well," Hitchin told the chamber audience. "The building is up and completed, and they've hired about half of their work force."

Dennis Burnett, Augusta County's economic development director, said he expects the Augusta Marketplace commercial development near Verona — which was tabled because of the recession — will get started in the next 12 months.

At least as significant for the county is the priority the state has made to improve the Interstate 64 interchange at Tinkling Spring Road in Fishersville. Improvements there could bring infrastructure upgrades to the Fishersville area, Burnett said.

"We anticipate big benefits from that road improvement," he said.

An aide to Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said during her talk that the state's commitment to job creation has brought 30,000 jobs to Virginia since Bolling and Gov. Bob McDonnell took office last year. Of those, 2,365 have come to the Valley, said Ibbie Hedrick, Bolling's spokeswoman and business community liaison.

An initiative to move past marketing the state only for manufacturing and trying to lure more high-technology industries could bring even more jobs to Virginia, Hedrick said.

""We've decided that we need to diversify and go after more of these advanced technology sectors," Hedrick said.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Visiting business leaders preach the gospel of regionalism

By Dale Singer, Beacon staff

If St. Louis area business and government leaders needed any more reasons to embrace the gospel of regional cooperation to boost economic development, they got a powerful sermon on Tuesday: Other regions already are way out front.

Economic development experts from other regions met with St. Louis region business and government leaders to stress the importances of working together.
That was the lesson taught by economic development experts from Kansas City, Nashville and Oklahoma City. At a session at the Missouri Botanical Garden, they hammered home the point that intramural turf battles can't do anything but hurt a metropolitan area's efforts to attract businesses from an outside world that is focused on a much larger picture. (Click here for an archived video of the conference.)

As Janet M. Miller, chief economic development and marketing officer for the Nashville area chamber of commerce, put it:

"Fighting is nothing but risk, and risk is the enemy of economic development."

Added Robert J. Marcusse, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council: "We have to approach what we do as a region. We can't do it any other way."

Marcusse pointed out that in the 18-county region that his group represents, the reality of living and working in a variety of jurisdictions is hit home by the fact that you can literally straddle State Line Road and have one foot in Missouri, the other in Kansas. So anyone from outside the area who is considering moving to Kansas City can't be bothered with a hodgepodge of bickering governments. They need a single point of entry, Marcusse said, one that brings clarity, not confusion and contention.

Robin Roberts Krieger, executive vice president for economic development for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said that working together also helps bring the focus to what really should be the first goal for anyone trying to recruit new companies or grow existing ones: "What does the customer want?"

For groups like the ones they lead, Krieger and the others said the answer to that all-important question includes a one-stop shop, where outsiders can get the information and assistance that they need; a willingness to do the work but not necessarily get a lot of credit; and a strong public-private partnership where governments and business executives each do what they do best to help a region grow.

"Economic development is the original team sport," Miller said.

She pointed out that in 1989, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about how badly Nashville was being left behind by other areas and was going to be what she called "a sleepy backwater forever."

In response, local leaders formed Partnership 2000, which has evolved into what is now Partnership 2020. It has developed intricate processes to identify, court and land new businesses, moving through stages from awareness to interest to enthusiasm to negotiation to closing the deal.

She said she was amazed, talking with St. Louis area leaders, to learn about the city-county divide -- the kind of circumstances, she added, that outsiders don't want to have to deal with.

"To a corporation sitting on the West Coast," Miller said, "what is important is St. Louis the Engine.... You don't want to bring in some customer and have them find out that when you reach the county line, activity becomes something like a hostage swap.

"Good Lord, they'll think: If they're fighting on the front end, when they are selling, what is it going to be like when we actually get in there?"

Marcusse, in Kansas City, talked in terms of "economic Darwinism," where winners may become losers and have to make basic changes if they want to become winners again, particularly in tough times like today.

"There's simply not enough to around right now," he said, "and when there's not enough to go around, competition gets a little sharper."

But, he added, that competition doesn't mean that even regions like St. Louis and Kansas City, often seen as rivals, won't benefit from working together. A robust St. Louis will help his area as well. "There can be nothing better than for this town to take off and soar," Marcusse said.

Steve Johnson, of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, responded to the three presentations, noting that "there is no such thing as one size fits all" when it comes to economic development.

He noted that the RCGA's big goal is that by 2020, the region should rank in the top 10 of the 20 largest metropolitan areas in regional vitality, economic health and creation of community wealth. It will reach that point, he added, by focusing on priorities like life sciences and aerospace; doing more targeted marketing; encouraging more startups; leveraging the area's transportation assets; and treating a talented workforce as a strategic imperative.

"We used to assume that if we had the jobs, the labor force would follow," he said. "We can't assume that any more."

Both Denny Coleman, head of the St. Louis County Economic Council, and Rodney Crim, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corp., said they took the lessons of the nearby regions to heart, and they recognize St. Louis has to work hard to catch up.

"Competition is tough," Coleman said, adding that the region has to be "as laserlike as we can" in promoting St. Louis as a whole.

Added Crim: "We know we have to compete as a united front. There are more steps to come. This is an excellent first step."

At least St. Louis doesn't have to combat one problem cited by both Krieger in Oklahoma City and Miller in Nashville -- a negative media stereotype.

For Krieger, it is the legacy of the Okies in "The Grapes of Wrath."

"One of our biggest obstacles is image," she said. "John Steinbeck did no favor for us."

And even in Nashville, where Miller said entertainment and creativity are part of what is in the region's DNA and play a big role in marketing -- "just roll out Taylor Swift and you've got a deal" -- there is also a downside.

"If you think John Steinbeck caused problems," she said, "try having 200 episodes of 'Hee Haw' playing on cable TV."

Contact Beacon staff writer Dale Singer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Macon development groups end feud

Atlanta Business Chronicle - by Carla Caldwell, Morning Call Editor

Two groups that promote economic development in Macon and Bibb Co., Ga., ended what had become a bitter turf dispute when on Friday they announced a new partnership to recruit and retain business, the Macon Telegraph’s website reports.

Officials with the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority and Macon Economic Development Commission have negotiated a three-year contract that stipulates each group keep the other informed of their activities and that they work together to attract industry, according to

According to the new agreement, the MEDC will remain the area’s “point of contact” with Georgia officials, developers and prospective companies, while the authority will control public funding set aside for development as well as be more involved with potential projects, officials said, the newspaper reports.

The authority voted earlier this year to do its own marketing and said it would keep MEDC on through June 30. The industrial authority has argued marketing is its role, and that it is the only entity authorized to receive public funding for marketing efforts. The MEDC, which has firmly disagreed, has received funding from the city, county and water authority, as well as private contributions, according to

As the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported earlier, the authority voted June 6 to move ahead to sever its relationship with MEDC, prompting some members of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce to say the authority’s decision could affect economic projects that took years to build.

At a Friday news conference following the groups’ decision to make amends, MEDC Chairman Mike Dyer said “Economic development is back on the right track,” the Macon newspaper reported.

Friday, June 10, 2011

To get jobs, areas develop industry hubs in emerging fields

By Paul Davidson, USA TODAY

CLEVELAND — Alex Nudelman, a strapping 49-year-old, confidently pushes buttons on a computer-controlled milling machine and suggests it's ready to sculpt a small piece of metal.

His instructor stops him, noting Nudelman has not programmed in all the tools needed to shape the metal block.

A journeyman autoworker who was laid off in 2009, Nudelman is taking a community college class here so he can work on the more sophisticated gear powering the region's growing cluster of medical device makers. If all goes well, he may soon be churning out spinal implants instead of seat brackets.

"I'm trying to compare the new technology with my old experience, and sometimes it's helpful, and sometimes" it isn't, Nudelman says. But, the Russia native adds, blue eyes brightening, "It's the future."

Northeast Ohio is among a growing number of regions that are combating the loss of traditional factory jobs by developing industry clusters in fields such as biomedicine, renewable energy and aerospace. Besides medical devices, the Cleveland area — a more than century-old stronghold for auto, rubber and glass making — aims to carve out niches in clean energy and flexible electronics.

Hubs that group manufacturers, suppliers, training programs, researchers and others in the same region, aren't new. Hot beds such as computers in Silicon Valley, biotechnology in Boston and film in Hollywood developed organically and have thrived for decades.

But with the loss of 8.7 million jobs in the recession, state and local officials are more active in trying to speed the growth of nascent clusters to create new jobs. Emerging industry centers include electric-car batteries in Michigan, clean energy in Colorado and robotics in Pittsburgh. In clean energy alone, 20 regional non-profits have sprung up around the USA in the past three years to coordinate funding and product-launching efforts among companies, universities, entrepreneurs and state agencies.

Now, the federal government is stepping in. President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget proposes a competition to identify 20 potential clusters that would receive a share of $2.5 billion in financial incentives. A separate program involving 16 U.S. agencies aims to advance existing industry hubs. With a report Friday showing job growth slowing, officials say funding for innovation is needed to expand payrolls.

Clusters "are becoming a central framework for how the federal government is engaging," says Assistant Secretary of Commerce John Fernandez.

Some critics say government efforts often fall short by trying to pick winners and losers in the marketplace or create clusters that don't have a sufficient base of companies. Officials in several states downplay such concerns and say they must act to revive a fading manufacturing base. The U.S. lost 2 million factory jobs in the recent recession. Manufacturing employment in the U.S. peaked at about 19 million in 1970, when it made up 21% of the workforce. Today, the USA's 11.7 million factory workers are just 9% of all payrolls, though employment rebounded some in the recovery.

The U.S., with 19.4% of global factory output, was marginally overtaken by China last year as the world's manufacturing leader, according to IHS Global Insight. Cluster development is designed to attract firms and make them less likely to flee for countries with low labor costs or short-term financial incentives.

"Business as usual is broken," says Brookings Institution senior fellow Mark Muro, noting enticing firms with tax breaks alone yields limited benefit.

Cluster theory holds that manufacturers and suppliers often want to be in proximity to collaborate on product design. Companies want to be near universities to benefit from the latest innovations. And bigger clusters attract still more companies that seek access to a large pool of skilled workers.

The class Nudelman attends underscores the synergies of Cleveland's biomedical ecosystem. A year ago, Cuyahoga Community College started the class, which teaches computer-controlled milling to aspiring medical-device and aerospace workers, to supply area firms with more workers at the request of BioEnterprise, a non-profit charged with growing the cluster. The Labor Department kicked in a $600,000 grant, making the class free for students, many of whom lost old-line manufacturing jobs.

BioEnterprise CEO Baiju Shah says business leaders and local officials launched his and other non-profits around the 2001 recession when they realized Cleveland's traditional factory jobs weren't coming back. The Cleveland area has lost 80,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Officials decided to base the area's future on an existing hub of medical imaging and other device makers — as well as pharmaceutical developers and bioscience researchers — and the presence of the renowned Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University. Until recently, the cluster had failed to draw the start-up firms and venture capital needed to create jobs, Shah says.

State support

Driving the effort was Ohio's Third Frontier, a $2.3 billion state program to nurture new tech-based industries. The initiative has pumped $235 million into biomedical research and start-ups in northeast Ohio since 2002. Non-profits such as BioEnterprise have recruited medical firms to the region, helped start-ups obtain venture capital and state money and matched manufacturers with suppliers.

Since 2001, the number of biomedical firms in the area has more than doubled to 600, and venture capital investments have swelled to an average $150 million a year since 2005, vs. $30 million a year from 1996 to 2001, according to BioEnterprise. The ventures employ a few thousand, a fraction of the jobs lost, but more are expected as fledgling firms grow.

On Euclid Avenue, an unpretentious artery that connects downtown Cleveland with uptown hospitals and universities, shuttered red-brick factories and social-service agencies are interspersed with tony health care office complexes with names such as CleveMed.

Nearby, ground was broken early this year on the $465 million Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center, the world's first marketplace for medical industry buyers and sellers.

BioEnterprise is the cluster's nerve center. In earth-toned open offices, venture capitalists sit in windowed cubicles along the perimeter; BioEnterprise marketers toil in the center.

Across the hall is an incubator with 19 biomedical start-ups, which pay nominal rents to BioEnterprise, and in some cases, share offices. One, CardioInsight, developed a vest with sensors to capture electrical signals from 250 body areas to better diagnose weak spots in the heart.

The vest was the brainchild of a Case Western graduate student and partly funded by Third Frontier and a local non-profit venture capitalist called JumpStart. The original prototype was a 15-pound medieval-looking garment strewn with wires. A local design firm, Nottingham Spirk, situated three blocks from CardioInsight, turned it into a lightweight, disposable vest with 250 printed circuits. "The fact that they were five minutes away allowed us to have multiple face-to-face meetings," says CardioInsight CEO Steve Arless. "You need to not only see it, you need to feel it."

The firm could double its 20-person staff in two years after the vest is cleared by regulators.

Nottingham has invented consumer products such as the Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner and a $5 battery-operated toothbrush. Located in a former church, the firm — whose designers rim a rotunda while technicians build prototypes in a workshop a few steps below — has doubled the medical-device portion of its portfolio to about 40%. "We read the tea leaves," says partner John Nottingham, who often stands beside surgeons during operations to see how tools can be improved.

Cleveland also has wrested biomedical start-ups from far-flung locales. In 2002, city and business officials went to Israel to lure Simbionix, a maker of computers that simulate surgery for medical students.

The simulators are made by Astro Manufacturing & Design, which has long produced auto and aerospace parts for other companies but is increasingly cranking out medical devices. In a quiet workshop off the whirring aerospace factory, two former industrial machine workers assemble computers and connect them to syringes and scalpels. They learned on the job.

"I don't know anything about the heart or lower arteries," says worker Ken Valardo, 53.

At another Astro plant nearby, employees make the screws and plates that go into broken spines and bones. That required a culture shift and more exacting procedures. Titanium rods are labeled and stored behind a locked gate until they're ready to be shaped. That way, finished goods can be tracked in case defects are found and a lot has to be recalled. Parts are sandblasted and inspected under microscopes for tiny imperfections.

Don Perish, a lanky, graying 52-year-old, has been turning out bone screws since he lost his job making auto industry tools two years ago. His margin for error is much smaller as he programs computer-controlled lathes to shape the screws to within a human-hair's width of the prescribed dimension. He also has to keep meticulous records of everything he does.

"You have to pay more attention," he says. In his old job, "If I dropped something on the floor, you'd just put it back and keep on going." Perish, whose hourly pay of about $17 an hour hasn't changed, says his new gig is more rewarding. "I know I'm helping somebody out who might otherwise be paralyzed."

Astro officials meet weekly with physicians at the Cleveland Clinic to work on new products. One recent morning, Astro executive Brett Crawford sat at a table in the office of orthopedist Joseph Iannotti to discuss ways to improve a long metal tool they're developing to guide surgeons during shoulder implants.

"The problem is the foot piece," Iannotti said, noting that the device's lower part didn't line up with a badly degenerated shoulder as he held it against a model. Crawford nodded and took notes: "We're doubling the (foot piece's) length." A new version was ready in three days.

Some skills in short supply

There are challenges, including a shortage of skilled workers and entrepreneurs to lead start-ups. Astro, with 275 employees, added 45 last year and is struggling to hire a dozen engineers, managers and machinists. "It's impossible," says Vice President Rich Peterson, adding that many old-line workers lack essential math and computer skills.

Also, U.S. approval of medical devices can take years. AxioMed, a Cleveland area start-up, has been selling its artificial spinal discs in Europe for 18 months but doesn't expect federal Food and Drug Administration approval until 2012, delaying a planned expansion from 15 to 30 employees. "It's much more difficult in the U.S.," says CEO Patrick McBrayer.

To hedge the region's bets, another non-profit called NorTech is working to develop clusters in clean energy and flexible electronics, which involves putting tiny, malleable printed circuit boards on clothing and other products so ski goggles, for example, can tint with a touch. "If biosciences starts to dip, others can pick up," says NorTech President Rebecca Bagley.

The flexible electronics cluster has only 20 firms, but it's attracted $60 million in state funding, and virtually no other region has a foothold in the space. By contrast, Harvard's Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness lists at least 40 medical-device clusters in the USA.

Critics say cluster development is misguided. Consultant Gary Kunkle says his study of 1.3 million firms showed success or failure is based on companies' distinctive qualities, not location. And, he says, governments are far more likely than the marketplace to fund lemons. "You have a bureaucracy that has no idea about the feasibility of these ideas," he says, noting nearly every state has been trying to form a biotech cluster.

Norman Chagnon, executive director of Ohio's Third Frontier, says officials are simply trying to hasten the development of industries and companies that have obvious strengths. "It would have been foolish and hubris for us to pick an area that's hot and say that's where we're going to go," he says.

Michigan Eliminates MEGA tax credits

By Nathan Bomey

While he was CEO of economic development group Ann Arbor SPARK, Michael Finney helped growing tech companies apply for tax credits from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

But, as part of tax reform legislation pushed by Gov. Rick Snyder and approved by the Michigan Legislature last month, MEDC's Michigan Economic Growth Authority tax credits for high-tech companies were killed in favor of a $1.7 billion overall tax cut for Michigan businesses.

And Finney, who once said the tax credits were necessary to help attract new companies, is not shedding any tears for the MEGA tax credits.

The MEGA tax credits, created by former Gov. John Engler and expanded by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, were originally viewed as a way to attract growing companies to come to Michigan and to convince existing companies to expand here.

But over time, the MEGA credits turned into a political curse, as a multitude of companies, including local offices of companies like Atwell Hicks and Google, failed to add the jobs they promised to add in exchange for receiving the credits. And Lansing lawmakers were forced to explain why they distributed tax breaks to companies that weren’t meeting their expansion promises.

During Granholm's eight-year administration, the MEGA board distributed more than $3.56 billion in tax credits to 508 companies, according to an analysis conducted by in September.

The purging of business tax credits would frighten most U.S. economic development leaders, who survive on a steady diet of tax credits designated for hot companies.

But Finney is confident that the state’s lower overall business tax rate, a simpler filing system, a governor who is very business friendly and a capped pool of incentives that survived the funding cuts will lead to more jobs and business growth.

The death of the MEGA credits — and all the “saved,” “retained” and “indirect” jobs the MEDC claimed would be created as a result of the credits — is just fine with Finney.

“I’m extremely comfortable with it,” he said in an interview Thursday at the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual Mackinac Policy Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

The credits are gone, but the state Legislature devoted $175 million for various MEDC incentives and programs for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. Here’s the breakdown:

--$25 million for the Pure Michigan marketing campaign.

--$25 million for film industry subsidies, about one-fifth of the amount distributed in 2010, when the film tax credits were theoretically unlimited.

--$25 million for entrepreneurial programs.

--$100 million for all other tax incentives and credits, including brownfield projects.

Finney said the types of incentives and tax credits in the $100 million pool would be tailored on a case-by-case basis for each company or project selected to receive a boost. He described it as “a negotiated incentive that can be structured either as a grant, loan or investment.”

“A big part of it is understanding what the company needs,” Finney said.

It’s all part of the MEDC’s emerging “economic gardening” strategy, which favors helping existing businesses grow over “hunting” for outside companies to come to Michigan.

Finney also:

--Declined to say much about Snyder’s statement Wednesday that he would push for a statewide talent enhancement network in November. The concept is modeled after an initiative created by SPARK, which distributes a free weekly newsletter with job openings to several thousand subscribers and tries to help companies connect and hire talented workers. The talent enhancement plan is likely to feature a push to show Michigan’s benefits to people who used to live, work or attend classes here.

“We had a lot of ideas that we couldn’t implement because they weren’t regional,” Finney said. “They really required statewide capability.”

--Praised SPARK’s hiring of Paul Krutko, a Silicon Valley economic development veteran with experience in Cleveland and Jacksonville, Fla., as his replacement as CEO.

“I think they made a great hire,” Finney said. “It really says something about the community and about SPARK that we’re able to attract an executive from Silicon Valley. I think that’s probably the story that no one has focused on. The fact that he’s from the Midwest helps. He brings an awful lot of know-how and opportunity as a result of the relationship he built out there.”

--Suggested MEDC’s incentives would not be directed toward the big auto companies. “They basically just continue to invest and hire, so their impact is obviously being seen right now in Michigan’s economy,” he said.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Scott visits Canada for trade mission

By Michael C. Bender
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- — Gov. Rick Scott on Monday kicked off a five-day tour of Canada’s two largest cities.

Scott will spend five days between Montreal and Toronto in an attempt to lure more jobs to Florida. He was joined by his chief economic development officer, Enterprise Florida Director Gray Swoope, and a delegation from the state’s business community, including Florida Realtors President Patricia Blakiston, Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Stuart Rogel and Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. President Keith Alan Norden.

Scott’s office declined a request to include any Florida press on the trip.

It is Scott’s second foreign trade mission in three months. Scott traveled to Panama in March and plans to visit Brazil in October.

Canada is Florida’s top international economic development partner, according to Enterprise Florida. Florida trade with Canada topped $7.1 billion in 2010 and roughly 300 Canadian companies have operations in Florida, with 24,300 high-wage jobs.

In 2009, 2.7 million Canadians visited the Sunshine State and spent more than $2.8 billion.

Scott’s office promised an “important economic development announcement” Wednesday but declined to provide additional details.

Scott’s schedule is peppered with meetings with private companies, but a list was unavailable.

On Monday, Scott was scheduled to meet with Quebec Premier Jean Charest, the U.S. Consul General in Montreal Lee McClenny and Power Corp. of Canada, an international holding company with interests in financial services, media and other business sectors.

Scott was also scheduled to attend a reception at the offices of international law firm Fasken Martineau. The itinerary for the rest of the week includes a pair of Visit Florida expos, meetings with the Quebec-Florida Chamber of Commerce and the American Chamber of Commerce and a visit to the Forum Economique Des Ameriques-Conference de Montreal.

Scott will also meet with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Kevin Johnson, the U.S. Consul General in Toronto.

Michael C. Bender can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCBender

Diversified jobs key, says new coalition boss

By John Nolan, Staff Writer

DAYTON — The new head of the Dayton Development Coalition, said Monday he wants to help diversify the region’s jobs base and improve communications with local governments. Jeff Hoag-
land said the coalition needs to identify key suppliers of recent economic recruits, like the Caterpillar parts distribution center in Clayton and the WilmerHale law firm’s business services center in Kettering, and work to attract those companies to the area.

“Who do those businesses work with? What do we need to do to get those supply-chain companies here in the Dayton area?” he said.

Hoagland, 43, is a former Vandalia city manager who was hired in December as the coalition’s executive vice president of operations. He was promoted Monday to presi-
dent and chief executive officer. Hoagland will receive a base salary of $195,000, compared with the $225,000 base salary paid in 2009 to predecessor Jim Leftwich.

Hoagland said he wants to use his public sector experience to assure member local governments that everyone within the coalition is pursuing the common goal of bringing new jobs to the area. Other priorities include supporting the technology development needs of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and building aerospace research and development, Hoagland said.

Leaders of organizations that work with the coalition said communication is essential for recruiting and retaining employers.

Edison Materials Technology Center, a state-backed organization in Kettering that helps technology companies get started, has had a good working relationship with the coalition and its state-supported, startup-nurturing Entrepreneurial Signature Program, said David Swenson, EMTEC’s vice president for business initiatives. But the lines of communications must stay open about prospective entrepreneurs and their needs, Swenson said.

“Anytime that you have collaborating organizations, it takes work to make sure that you’re in sync,” he said.

Tips about companies having financial trouble,
or those interested in relocating or expanding here, are invaluable for local governments competing with other regions and states for jobs and investment, said Greene County Administrator Howard Poston.

“Our biggest issue always is communications — being informed as to what’s going on and being way ahead of those issues,” Poston said. “The more lead time you get, the better your chances of achieving your objective.”

In recent years, Greene County slashed its annual membership contribution
to the coalition to $25,000, down from $190,000. But that was due to tight finances and competing needs, not because of problems with the coalition’s work, Poston said.

Hoagland succeeds Leftwich, who left the coalition in March to become director of the Ohio Department of Development in Gov. John Kasich’s administration.

Hoagland’s background in economic development and his established relationships helped him land the job, said Bruce Langos, chairman of the coalition’s board and chief operating officer of Teradata Corp.

In addition to his six years as Vandalia’s city manager, Hoagland has been the city of Kettering’s assistant city manager and economic development manager and worked in the Montgomery County community and economic development office.

Hoagland graduated
from the University of Dayton in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Wright State University.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2242 or jnolan@Dayton

Rebuilding a devastated Miami-Dade economy

By Hannah Sampson

On Friday afternoon, a group of nearly 150 business leaders gathered in a hotel ballroom and graded Miami-Dade’s economic outlook for the next five years. The report card would make few parents proud: nearly half the room handed out a C.

With more than $600,000, a crew of consultants and support from a slew of businesses and organizations, the Beacon Council is spearheading an effort to raise that grade through a study called One Community One Goal.

Over the course of nearly a year, the project will seek to identify the most promising business sectors for a region struggling with 13 percent unemployment and one of the worst housing markets in the country — and then provide a plan for how to lure those jobs.

Part of the goal is to ensure that the region’s educational infrastructure is capable of filling the needs of current and target industries.

Avalanche Consulting of Austin, Texas, is conducting the study along with site selection firm McCallum Sweeney and the nonprofit Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.

Adolfo Henriques, chairman of Gibraltar Private Bank and co-chair of One Community One Goal, named the key questions: “How do we retain the jobs we have here? What are the assets we have in this community? What are the obstacles that we have to overcome, whether real or perceived, and what are the industries today and in the future that are going to continue to provide us with attractive employment opportunities?”

Chris Engle, senior consultant with Avalanche, said during a presentation Friday that the study will look beyond the industries that dominate in Miami-Dade now, naming tourism, finance and trade.

“It’s time that we go a step further and look at how the sectors are evolving and what new sectors are around to help avoid the see-saw economy,” he said.

The hospitality sector so far leads the hiring rebound that began last year, contributing nearly 8,000 new positions, or about 40 percent of the 19,500 jobs added countywide since January 2010, according to an analysis by Miami-Dade economist Robert Cruz.

With tourism hiring at a peak — the hospitality industry’s 112,000-person payroll is larger than before the recession — industry leaders see this as a time for support of the vacation sector.

“I think we should continue to rely on the visitor industry as a top jobs producer, especially as we continue to grow,’’ said Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association.

William Talbert III, president of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said his office supports the initiative and has a key role in the discussion.

“There’s no better industry than tourism as a place to start and move up rapidly,” he said.

Consultants hope to get more than 1,000 responses on a survey that is posted online at and being distributed by email to thousands of people around the county.

The process will end with the rollout of a strategic plan next March based on the findings.

“It has to be doable deeds and not just a study,” said Frank Nero, president of the Beacon Council, which is funded by a mix of Miami-Dade tax money and dues from member businesses.

The One Community One Goal effort reprises a similar study completed by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce in the late 1990s.

That led to a list of eight “targeted industries’’ that stand as the county’s official top priorities for economic development: aviation, fashion and lifestyle, film and entertainment, financial services, international commerce, IT/telecom, life sciences, and tourism.

Education loomed large in the last effort, with a related foundation spending about $2.5 million between 2002 and 2005 supporting career training academies in Miami-Dade public schools for hospitality, finance and technology, according to tax records and school system spokesman John Schuster.

Nero said that while the initial study was effective, a new one was overdue.

“We created the jobs that we wanted,” he said. “Then 2007 and 2008 came and the bottom fell out.”

Complicating the second effort: the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, which has cost 92,000 jobs since its start in December 2007 and scrambled past blueprints for growth.

The process got an official kick-off Friday during the Chamber’s annual Goals Conference, held this year at the Hilton Miami Downtown.

The one-year phase is expected to cost $600,000 to $650,000. About $627,500 has been lined up, with the biggest chunk — $150,000 — coming from Wells Fargo.

Henriques, who is co-chairing the study with Alex Villoch, senior vice president of advertising and marking at The Miami Herald Media Company, said once the study is done stakeholders will prioritize what needs to happens first, what is affordable and where the money will come from for everything else.

Bruce Hoch, a New Jersey consultant who conducted a similar study for Broward County, said Miami-Dade would be wise to keep its goals realistic and focus on what can bring jobs back.

“It really can’t be pie in the sky,’’ said Hoch, managing director of DCG Corplan and a finalist to run the Beacon Council study. “A wish list grounded in reality is fine.”

Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Economic development in the region gets a tuneup — but how different will it be?

By Don Fraser QMI Agency

Niagara was in an economic storm in 1991 and the clouds were darkening.

A recession was pounding the region, with huge job losses and economic misery.

Unemployment was at 14% — the second highest in Canada.

General Motors was slashing its workforce. Businesses were folding and broke tourists were staying put.

That's when Brian Merrett got the call — "what do you think about heading up the Niagara Regional Development Corp.?"

Merrett, then Niagara regional chair, remembers having mixed thoughts.

"I asked the question, 'Why do I want this job?'" laughs Merrett, now CEO of the War of 1812 Bicentennial Legacy Council.

"But we rallied and we got to work."

He recalls the corporation playing a vital role as Niagara struggled back to life.

"We knocked on doors, went out and sought companies," he said. "We might assist companies that wanted to move here, who might have had issues, like water or sewage (concerns)."

Adversity brought economic players together, said Merrett.

Some of those parties included businesses, the public sector, labour and sometimes parochial local governments.

Now, Niagara's economy is again at a crossroads.

And so is the arm's-length body created to bolster its business community.

Unemployment is stubbornly high, and new technologies and smaller businesses are overtaking large-scale manufacturing for jobs.

Meanwhile on June 22, a regional task force will present a report that could affect the existence of the agency, now known as the Niagara Economic Development Corp. That comes after a new council decided on the review back in March.

Its recommendations could completely overhaul how economic development services are handled by the Region.

For citizens, it could ultimately affect the types of business and jobs that come to the area.

Any new economic development measures could also influence the kinds of enterprises that are encouraged to stay here and grow.

This, after a previous regional council weighed the findings of a consultant's report from the Randolph Group last October.

Despite critics' calls to scrap the economic development agency, council decided behind closed doors to maintain it.

Options that are still on the table include folding the agency's work into a regional department, or some hybrid of the two.

Merrett agrees the time has come for a revisit.

"Any kind of agency like this needs to get refocused, retooled, freshened from time to time," he said. "The marketplace and issues our local companies are dealing with are changing."

The NEDC itself is a board-run, non-profit body with a $1.9-million annual budget.

Its mandate is to advance economic prosperity in Niagara and promote the region globally, while working with the 12 municipalities to boost investment and attract and retain jobs.

The agency also links with public and private sector partners to market the region for investment, playing a key role in convincing firms to relocate here and find suitable digs.

Patrick Robson, the Region's commissioner of integrated community planning, pointed out one shortcoming by the Randolph report in these efforts: No way to measure concrete results.

Currently, success is measured by things like the number of contacts made, "as opposed to how many deals were closed, jobs created," said Robson, who's helping co-ordinate the task force.

Region Chair Gary Burroughs says it's clear economic development in Niagara is at a pivotal point.

"I think the role will be much more clearly defined after this is done," he said.

An update has already been provided that signals the "status-quo is not satisfactory," he said.

"I don't think it meets the needs of this particular council."

Burroughs said it's important to remember the core function of economic development — getting new firms to locate here and helping existing businesses stay vital.

Niagara has thousands of enterprises, he adds. Most are small, with fewer than 20 employees. Burroughs himself was the former owner of the Oban Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

"Many small businesses are just busy surviving," he said. "And this sector is an incredible feature of our community.

"From the hotel standpoint, back then I didn't know the Region and the province might have programs, or about possible connections at Niagara College and Brock University. I didn't know there might be something out there. And I didn't have the time to investigate."

The NEDC has weathered a 40-year evolution of mandates and mergers.

Its origins trace to 1971, when the newly created Niagara Region council took a hard look at developing the region's tourism industry.

The result was the Regional Niagara Tourist Council, whose focus included promotional campaigns and destination marketing. Ten years later, the region was in crisis and mired in a job-killing recession that predated Merrett's economic downturn.

The Niagara Regional Development Corp. was formed out of the need to spur more growth.

By 1996, regional council amalgamated the two and the Niagara Economic and Tourism Corp. was born.

Nine years later, it tightened its focus to business development and investment and became the Niagara Economic Development Corp. In recent years, the role of the 15-employee agency has become more defined.

Now, its top jobs are promoting an economic growth strategy and building a stronger Niagara voice and competitive business environment.

The NEDC also seeks to develop emerging clusters, like biotechnology and interactive media.

It is also marketing the Niagara brand — notably, a Niagara Original small "n" logo used to highlight the area's assets that different businesses can adapt for their own marketing.

The agency has seen a number of undeniable successes.

Last year alone, it helped with the relocation of Attar Metals Inc. and Laurcoat Industrial Coatings to Niagara, leading to the creation of more than 70 jobs.

Meanwhile, a new Niagara Regional Tourism Organization is meant to co-ordinate tourism funding for the region. It's one of 13 similar new agencies across the province.

Yet, the NEDC has its own separate Tourism Niagara website and Gateway Niagara information centre.

Whatever the recommended changes, it's clear something needs to be done, said task force member and Niagara regional councillor Debbie Zimmerman.

"What I found most interesting is not so much that NEDC is broken as a framework," she said. "It's the relationships that need to be repaired."

That includes links to other economic development bodies in Niagara.

"The business community is caught with trying to manoeuvre through these different levels."

In the meantime, NEDC's acting CEO Alan Teichroeb said it's business as usual for the agency.

"On a day-to-day basis, we continue to work on a variety of projects," Teichroeb said, declining comment on the task force and what it might recommend.

History Niagara Economic Development Corp.

— In 1971, regional council creates Regional Niagara Tourist Council;

— By 1981, Niagara Regional Development Corp. is created;

— In 1996, regional council amalgamates the tourist and development agencies into Niagara Economic and Tourism Corp.;

— It is rebranded as Niagara Economic Development Corp. in 2005.

The NEDCs key roles

— implement an economic growth strategy;

— build a stronger collective voice for Niagara;

— create a competitive business environment;

— develop emerging clusters, like tech industries;

— improve transportation and related infrastructure within Niagara;

— market the Niagara brand outside the region;

— develop Niagara's business talent pool.