Dean Barber

Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

Fooled ‘Em Again, Josey

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2012 at 8:31 am

Ostensibly, I am a consultant. I am in business to help companies find optimal locations for their future operations throughout North America. I also hold myself out to have sage-like knowledge in working with economic development organizations.

But in my heart of hearts, I will always be a journalist, a digging, probing gumshoe reporter. It actually serves me well in what I do today.

For 20 years, I worked on newspapers, first as a reporter and then becoming an editor. My last job in the craft was as the business editor for The Birmingham News, Alabama’s largest daily newspaper. But I left journalism in 1998. It was a scary thing to do to be sure, but sometimes you can only leap and hope for the best.

The opportunity presented itself and I jumped. The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama sent me all over the world, recruiting European and Asian companies to Alabama. It was one fun job. My new bosses figured if I was so good at rooting around at finding news (news that sometimes they didn’t want reported), that I might also have a good nose for digging up projects.

Teams Win

Well, I think they were proved right. Through my investigative methods, which I learned as a reporter, I found or originated a good number of projects that would eventually result in manufacturing plants on the ground in Alabama. But in the process, I learned that economic development was far more of a team sport than what I expected. Teams win projects not individuals.

Actually, that is a common denominator for all successful business operations. It’s an old, old concept but it’s still true, true. Team work matters.

This past week, I spent some very good time in Tallahassee, Fla., where I spoke on the subject of business retention and expansion and later, during a panel discussion, on site selection. During the course of the all-day forum, sponsored by the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County, I had the pleasure of listening to remarks by John Crowe, chairman and CEO of Memphis-based Buckeye Technologies Inc.

Crowe, a Florida State University graduate and member of the FSU Sports Hall of Fame, struck me as a most personable and humble man. In his public and afterward in private remarks to me, he said that it was not about what he may know or offer his company that makes such a big difference, but rather the people around him – his team.

An exec with the company told me that Crowe has the uncanny ability to walk into the company’s plant in nearby Taylor County and talk with ease to workers, remembering their first names and things about their families.

Crowe has 32 years of experience in manufacturing, and began as a shift worker. So he has seen manufacturing up close and personal from the shop floor to the boardroom. Buckeye manufactures cellulose fibers used for everything from hot-dog casings to currency paper to wipes. The company is a leader in its industry.

No Going Back

I also learned from my Tallahassee trip that I can never go home again. Any faintest idea of ever returning to the newspaper business was totally dashed with a tour of the newsroom of the Tallahassee Democrat provided by Executive Editor Bob Gabordi.

The newsroom that I saw was not the newsroom that I left 15 years ago. Technology had transformed it. Bob tried to explain to me these starship panels that were center stage showing editors in real time who is reading what online, what stories were being worked on and the progress to completion. At that moment, the all-knowing sage consultant felt dumb, very dumb. And like a relic. There would be no going back for me. Ever.

But earlier in the very same building, I was cruising, indeed felt a level of confidence, in fielding questions about economic development and site selection with the editorial board of the newspaper. They were asking me about my world, a world that I have grown comfortable with as a consultant. And they even wrote an editorial that came out the next day (Friday) suggesting that I knew my stuff.

Fooled ‘em again, Josey. (From the movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”)

A Road Show in the Making

The conference began a few hours later in which I offered up a deep dish helping on the concept of business retention and expansion (BR&E) via a PowerPoint presentation that was replete with the most absolutely ridiculous images that I could find. I was speaking after lunch so my goal was to keep my audience awake.

Later that afternoon, I found myself on a three-member panel discussion fielding questions about the recruiting process and what companies were looking for in communities of interest. I came to realize very quickly that my two comrades on the panel were not only very smart and very good at what they did, but also good guys to boot. And they were fun to hang out with.

Thomas Henry and Marty Reid with PricewaterhouseCoopers offered valuable views on site selection and economic development that were from a different perspective than mine. But their ideas and methods are great. Somehow, someway in answering questions from the audience, we – the three so-called experts onstage — complimented each other in what we had to say by our different approaches.

Afterward, some people commented that they thought we had worked together before and had planned out and rehearsed our answers. It was at that point that we started musing the idea of taking our show out on the road and selling tickets. Marty plays a mean guitar and I play, maybe I shouldn’t say this here …  the uh, oh boy … Well, you know, it’s the uh … Ok, we’ll tell you … the banjo. There, it’s out.

But the point is that while I was being presented as the expert and maybe was successful in parting some information that others found useful, this learning thing is a two way street. I am just as much student as teacher. I am learning, or at least trying to learn, all the time from people that I meet. And I came away from Tallahassee having learned some things. Things that I hope to apply to my consulting business.

Thank You, Thank You

So let me publicly thank Beth Kirkland, president of TEDC, and her entire staff for their hospitality and all the work they did to make the economic development forum on Thursday such a success. They are a good team and teams matter. Kudos also to Karen Moore, chairman of the TEDC and owner of her own public relations consulting firm. Karen just makes things happen and makes people feel good in the process. Now that’s an art.

And this doesn’t happen very often, but it actually should. I want to thank the sometimes thankless press, specifically the Tallahassee Democrat. You must understand that these people publish the equivalent of a book every day. Do they always get it right? Of course not. But the overwhelming majority of journalists are dedicated to getting it right. They care about their community and shedding light on both strengths and weaknesses.

So I would urge local economic developers nationwide to get to know your local newspaper editors and publishers. You will not always be on the same page, but you need to have that dialogue and that relationship. I am speaking to you as a former business editor, a former economic developer, and now an expert on all business matters under the sun, because I am a consultant, and we are all knowing, which is why we give PowerPoint presentations.

A Good Deal

But seriously, I consider myself blessed. Like you, I’ve had my share of misfortune and pain, but I am thankful that I am able to move about across this great nation of ours and impart what little knowledge that I may have, while learning from others and making new friends. Now that’s a good deal.

Does Tallahassee have an intrinsic advantage in a future site search for a corporate client because I made friends there? The answer is yes and no to the degree that I would take a company only to the most optimal (and finalist) places where the perameters of the project – the wants and needs of the company – truly fit.

But I do now have a better and deeper understanding of the assets of Tallahassee and Northwest Florida. I have some ideas on what they can and cannot do in that region, and, again, depending on the client’s needs, it might be a place that can work. It just all depends. 

My Next Dumb PowerPoint

I think soon, very soon, I will start building a PowerPoint presentation on the importance of regionalism in economic development.  Like BR&E, it is a growing movement. There are reasons why communities should band together and share resources and develop regional strategies, which we will not go into here and now.

And like my other presentations, I will populate it with totally ridiculous images so as to keep my audience awake if not entertained.

Don Kirkman, president of Florida’s Great Northwest, representing 16 counties, formerly was president and CEO of the 12-county Piedmont Triad Partnership in North Carolina. Don understands the importance of regionalism as he has lived it most intimately in his marketing efforts.

So Don knows that I will be turning to him in the future on this subject matter. I should also thank him. He was the moderator for the panel discussion on Thursday in Tallahassee. He did not ask any questions that left me flat footed and looking un-sagelike. So thank you, Don.

As Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” I think that I may have left Tallahassee in the nick of time without doing or saying something too overly stupid, thereby threatening my all-knowing consulting status

I think. But I’m not absolutely sure.

Need a partner in results-oriented site selection? Contact Dean Barber at 972-890-3733 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Barber Business Advisors, LLC, is a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

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Was Offshoring a Fad?

In Uncategorized on February 19, 2012 at 7:30 am

This past week, Jim McNerney, the CEO of Boeing, spoke of a “lemming like” tide of manufacturers seeking to offshore their manufacturing capabilities.

With growth slowing in China and much of Europe, companies are now adding capacity in the United States, replacing aging equipment and even moving overseas production back from low-cost labor markets.

The chase for lower-paid workers around the world drove this thing we call offshoring, contributing to (but not the sole reason) for the U.S. manufacturing sector falling by 40 percent from its 1980 peak. But now companies are starting to realize that the benefit of lower wages can be offset by higher logistics and materials costs and greater efficiencies realized by technology here at home.

“We, lemming-like, over the last 15 years extended our supply chains a little too far globally in the name of low cost,” said McNerney. “We lost control in some cases over quality and service when we did that, we underestimated in some cases the value of our workers back here.”

That got me thinking, which can be a dangerous thing no doubt. McNerney’s remarks, made last week at a Washington event organized by GE aimed at promoting the competitiveness of the U.S. economy, would suggest that offshoring may have been a business fad rather than a reasoned strategy for some U.S.-based manufacturers.

The thinking in some board rooms could have been something like this:

“Well, we got to have plant in China, because our competitors and just about everybody who is anybody has a presence there. Hell’s bells, Coyote Acme right down the street from us has just opened a plant in China. We need to be over there.”

I am reminded of a scene in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Depression-era Mississippi Gov. Pappy O’Daniel is facing a daunting challenge in his bid for re-election. One his aides suggests: Well people like that reform. Maybe we should get us some.”

That “maybe we should get us some” has been a hallmark strategy for some U.S. manufacturers in the past decade. But now things are becoming more clear. Now manufacturers are realizing the total costs involved, not just the cost of labor (which is rising) for operating plants abroad. These extended and vulnerable supply lines come with a cost, not just in dollars but in terms of quality and serving your customer well.

It is true that China is a huge, growing market and poised to become the largest economy in the world. That’s a given. And it’s also true that U.S. companies may need a presence in China to serve that growing market. But it does not follow, as many companies are now discovering, that a Chinese manufacturing presence makes sense for the purpose of serving a domestic market here in the U.S.

Carlisle Companies, a Charlotte, NC.-based conglomerate that makes insulation, tires and restaurant supplies, plans to open two new plants in the U.S. and bring tire production back to the U.S. from China.

“We find it as cheap to manufacture in the U.S. as China,” Carlisle Chief Executive Dave Roberts wrote in an email to the Wall Street Journal. “We will still manufacture in China, but the idea would be to manufacture product for Asia in Asia, for the U.S. in the U.S.”

Wow, what a revolutionary idea – building plants to serve regional demand. Actually, that was the whole idea behind  a wave of Japanese, German and Korean auto manufacturers building plants in the United States, principally in the Southeast. They wanted to tap into the U.S. automotive market by having a physical presence here.

I have always believed in a herd mentality to business. Businesses will seek to emulate  what perceived industry leaders are doing or are trying to do. We find ourselves doing this even with the language we use. We come up with faddish business jargon in a desire to be perceived as cutting edge achievers today. You do not want to be perceived as “so yesterday” even if yesterday was rooted in foundational truths like quality and customer service.

It’s true that innovation drives our productivity and competitiveness, but not everyone can or will lead pioneering efforts. More often than not, strategies and methods are poached, copied and deemed industry “best practices.” But sometimes those best practices aren’t so best. Sometimes you have to forge your own path for best results.

So I think now that many US manufacturers are scratching their heads and saying, “You know, our offshoring strategy has not worked as well as we thought it would have. Maybe we need to reconsider what we are doing.”

Maybe that reform wasn’t all what it was cut out to be.

This past week, President Obama spoke at the Master Lock plant in Milwaukee and the Boeing plant in Everett, Wash., where he touted what he hopes, and what the evidence suggests will be a “Made in America” resurgence.

The president’s message was simple and direct: “I want us to make stuff. I want us to sell stuff.”

And he is absolutely right. As a nation, for our nation’s economic wellbeing, we have to make stuff. Manufacturing must always be a core strength to be nourished and protected.

Also this past week, I was invited to a reception given by a consultant here in Dallas. His focus, which he does very well, was helping retailers on market analysis and finding optimal locations for future store sites. But he introduced me to an audience of mostly economic developers and I spoke very briefly.

My emphasis, I told the group unapologetically, was manufacturing. My consulting business is built around helping manufacturers find the best locations for future operations. I continue to believe manufacturing is what builds wealth in a community.

I did not say this to the group, but I believe it to be true — that a community without an existing seed or foundation of manufacturing has a shallow, hollowed-out economy built upon a house of cards. I have been to communities where there is no manufacturing, where the local economy is based on tourism and real estate development. Most of the people there are not making good wages. Their skill sets are quite limited.

Manufacturing today, however, requires high skill sets and corresponding pays well. And it has a profound multiplier effect on a local economy and beyond. The National Association of Manufacturing (NAM)  says that each dollar’s worth of manufactured goods creates another $1.43 of activity in other sectors, twice the $.71 multiplier for services. Two thirds of U.S. research and development capacity is concentrated in manufacturing.

So this is important stuff. Manufacturing is the bedrock to a strong American economy. I think President Obama understands this. And his remarks this past week should hearten both U.S manufacturers and economic developers.

The Obama administration wants to scrap tax deductions for shipping jobs overseas, and offer new incentives for returning them to the United States. The administration is also pushing for a $2-billion-per-year tax credit to encourage manufacturers to invest in struggling communities

“If you’re an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax cut. And if you’re a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax deduction you get for making your products here,” Obama said in Everett.

“And finally, if you want to relocate in a community that’s been hit hard by factories leaving town, then you should get help financing that new plant, or financing that equipment, or training for new workers.”

Now if you believe what he says, how can you not be in favor of that? And please understand that I am not telling you who I am voting for in November. My political beliefs and leanings are not the purpose of this blog.

But a word of caution is in order. Despite indications that re-shoring will take place in growing numbers, it is but a trickle now. And all the manufacturing jobs lost will not be replaced.

One reason the Master Lock plant in Milwaukee survived is it’s now making more padlocks with fewer people. Even with the 100 or so new hires in the last year, the plant employs just over a third as many workers as it did in the mid-1980s. The reason: automation, which increases productivity. The president said as much.

“And look, the hard truth is, a lot of those jobs aren’t going to come back because of these increased efficiencies. And in a global economy, some companies are always going to find it more profitable to pick up and do business in other parts of the world. That’s just the nature of a global economy.”

The fact is that re-shoring alone can’t claw back the millions of jobs lost during this past recession. But it can make a huge dent.

After falling every year since 1998, the number of manufacturing jobs rose in the U.S. in both 2010 and 2011. Since December 2009, the sector has added 300,000 jobs. Manufacturers added 50,000 people to their payrolls in January alone.

Over the next decade, the Boston Consulting Group projects that $100 billion in goods production can return to U.S. shores, and that the creation, or re-creation, of hundreds of thousands of jobs will help reduce the unemployment rate by 1.5 percent.

Unlike off-shoring, I do not see re-shoring as a business fad, but rather a business trend. The difference may be semantics. Re-shoring or insourcing will be based on certain realities that the U.S. makes better sense as a place for manufacturing in terms of costs, efficiencies, quality and serving the home base. I’m not sure such a reasoned approach was always taken with decisions to off-shore production.

And it’s here, in this American market, where American customers can often be better served. Old ideas like quality and customer service are being viewed anew. This is basic blocking and tackling, but it’s also patriotism.

“You are going to see more (manufacturing) come back to the United States, and that’s in part for business reasons and in part because we want to be good citizens,” McNerney said.

Need a partner in results-oriented site selection? Contact Dean Barber at 972-890-3733 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Barber Business Advisors, LLC, is a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

A Mercenary’s Manifesto

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2012 at 7:41 am

The late New York columnist, Murray Kempton, described editorial writers “as partisan fighters who come down from the hills after the battle and shoot the wounded.”

I first heard that appropriate description many years ago when I was the business editor and a columnist for The Birmingham News. The point is that it is so easy, too easy, to criticize and find fault in the work and efforts of others.

That was a former life. Afterward, I would go from one vaunted craft to another – economic development.

Now, I hold myself out as a consultant.  That takes a degree of hutzpah, not just for the entrepreneurial aspect of starting a business – there is always blind courage involved here – but for the fact that I might actually have something to offer to people who might be willing to pay for it.

Still, I cannot help but recall a quote from Groucho Marx: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

I Am What I Am

A consultant, you see, must get past or submerge any nagging self doubts. You must be humble (you often don’t know what you don’t know) and yet you truly must believe that you can bring true value and solutions to a client organization that hires you temporarily to fulfill a certain mission or task.

To that end, make no mistake about it, I am a hireling, a contract worker. Based on my experience and expertise, I am to do the bidding, the analysis and legwork for a company considering a best location or locations for future operations. That is my site selection consulting business in a nutshell.

As anyone who has been to my website knows, I will also assist, aid and counsel economic development organization that may need help in honing it what it does. This is also a business enterprise, another facet of what I do to earn a living. Both the corporate side and the economic development side are very fun and satisfying, especially when you know you have made a difference and brought true value to the client.

I have found that corporate clients instinctively understand my profit motives – my business model – more clearly than some (and I underscore some) economic development organizations. Other consultants have confided in me the same thing.

Companies seem to get it – they understand that I am in business, that I am, in fact, there for them to fulfill a specific mission or task. Site selection, if done right, takes a degree of expertise that is typically not found in house. This is where I can step in and provide the “secret sauce,” as one knowledgeable consultant who I met last week so aptly put it.

You Get What You Pay For

But curiously, some economic development organizations, a small minority to be sure, will ask that I provide services and any parting knowledge at no cost. And I have on occasion complied when it hasn’t cost me too much in time and money. I have traveled without reimbursement to communities at the bequest of the local economic developer for a brief tour. I have spoken to groups for no charge, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Most of the time, I am constrained from doing that. So it pains me to some degree to have to explain that I would like to help, that I believe, in fact, that I could help, but that I am a fee-for-service kinda guy, and that Barber Business Advisors, LLC, is a for-profit business.

So when communities a thousand miles from my home invite me to a “fam tour” but will not cover travel expenses, my response is, “Thank you for the invitation, but this is just not a practical thing for me to do. I simply cannot spend my money in this manner to learn about your community. I’m sorry.”

Now, if during the course of a site selection project, I were to find myself in a community, well, that’s all very well and good. But keep in mind, that I am paid to be there and for an exact purpose.

He Talks, He Writes, He Charges

By the same token, I cannot offer presentations for free. By virtue of the fact that I am being asked to speak would indicate there must be some value on what I might have to say. But do you really expect me to travel to your community and share my ideas at no cost? Again, not practical, much less profitable.

I came to learn these things as an economic developer when I was repeatedly being turned down by consulants to come to my community and essentially give me their time  and knowledge for free. It took me awhile, because I can be slow, to figure out that I had to make it worth their while for them to come to me.

I remember one very accomplished site selection consultant that we paid to come to our region. He gave an excellent Powerpoint presentation about his philosophy and methods concerning site selection to a group of assembled economic developers. But afterward, he refused to provide us with a copy of his presentation. I understand that now more than I did then. I do not fault him.

Now as a consultant, I have come to realize that I am in the information and ideas business. It’s what I do. It’s what I am paid to do. The loss-leader concept doesn’t play well here. In short, I cannot give away the store even if I wanted to.

Certain website publishers and business magazine editors have asked that I write for them for free. They either want to republish my blog, which I spend considerable time on, for free or they want me to write an article for them at no cost. (Note to editors: This blog is for sale.)

“You’ll get so much more publicity,” they say.

Right. I think I’m going to try that with a local chef and see how it works. You come to my house, cook me and my wife a wonderful meal, at no cost, of course, and I will publicize the fact that your restaurant offers great food. Yea, that’s the ticket.

Please Look Me Up

Being that I am in Dallas, which is a hub of sorts for site selection consultants, I am continually being visited by economic developers from all over the country. This coming week, I will be meeting with a group from Florida. I truly enjoy these meetings and learning about their respective regions and communities and what they are doing.

I like and want to establish new relationships and rekindle old ones. If you have a trip planned to Dallas, please let me know.  I would like to meet you and learn more about what you are doing. And despite the fact that I am a bit restricted on what I can offer, we can nonetheless have a productive and friendly conversation. In fact, I would welcome that.

Beyond the Contract

Providing real, in-depth strategic value to a client is what I am about. The term “mercenary” rightly so has negative connotations. It might imply that a consultant is only in it for the money and does not care about the client or the quality of the services provided but is merely going through the motions to accomplish a certain task or contract. That’s not me.

We want to get it done right so that you might turn to me in the future for another project. So it goes well beyond the contract. This goes to the matter of trust. And this is an area where some consultants get in trouble.

It’s true, the money is important. The money is what sustains the business, but the business must be grounded in trust by providing great value. That is my manifesto. That is what I stand for.

If a client says afterward, “well done,” and if the job has proved to be profitable, then I have met my goal. I am serving my client and serving myself, so that I can continue in business to serve others and possibly that same client again.

I hope my words do not sound too harsh. I merely want to educate some that what is sometimes being asked for cannot be provided. I do like economic developers. Heck, I was one for many years. Corporate clients, well, I tend to like them even more. (That was a joke.)

Why Am I Here?

But I think it is probably important that every consultant come to terms with why they are in business, why they are doing what they are doing. That might sound on the face of it rather ridiculous, but I believe it’s true. It is the foundation to having any sort of business plan. Why am I here?

And while I do not speak for all consultants, nor would ever attempt to, my mercenary manifesto may hit home with some. If it does, well, I’m glad. If it doesn’t ring true, well, come up with your own.

And for all my prospective clients out there, well, you now know that this consultancy of mine is a business proposition with a profit motive. (Come on, you knew that all along.) But I hope you also understand that I hold certain core beliefs about providing true value.

It’s an absolute fact. I am a contract worker, a hireling, a mercenary, but I still want to do good. I still want to do the right thing. Or I am out of business.

Need a partner in results-oriented site selection? Contact Dean Barber at 972-890-3733 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Barber Business Advisors, LLC, is a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

Tales from the Trenches: Of Projects Won, Lost and Mangled

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2012 at 8:56 am

“All great ideas and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.” — Albert Camus

And so it is with just about any book or business. It starts with an often delusional belief that this thing we want to create is somehow needed and will be appreciated. The old proverbial idea of filling a niche is still true today.

And often in spite of our ignorance and sometimes even because of it, we actually accomplish what we set out to do. Sometimes we get to the promised land by shear will. I’m fast coming to the conclusion that will power or desire may be every bit as important as smarts in business. Some people not only have a better idea, but they just want it more.

If he didn’t say it, he should have – a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Along with fire in the belly, I have also come to believe that great success is usually predicated upon great failure. It seems that one is needed for the other, that nobody goes unscathed. Now this often makes for wonderful stories and teaching moments. These are tales from the trenches. Funny stories, sad stories, memorable stories, where failure and success are intertwined.

No Textbook Here

My friend Neal Wade, former head of the Alabama Development Office, and I want to write a book to tell these kind of stories. We want it to be from the perspective of  both economic developers and site selection consultants. The book will be about recruiting projects won and lost, and I promise that it will have no resemblance to a boring textbook.

Rather, we want to tell memorable stories that serve a purpose, stories that teach. To accomplish this, we will need your help. In short, we want to hear your stories, as they will be the foundation for our teaching book.

“We are looking for message stories,” said Wade, who was recently named executive director of the Bay County Economic Development Council in Panama City, Fla. “Some will be humorous. Some will be touching. We are going to tell stories to make a point. The story could be a real tear jerker or it could make you laugh. We want you to learn from these stories.”

Wade, formerly the president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, has a story of his own that he will occasionally tell.

“You know I always dealt with numbers. I always thought that you had to have a certain number of jobs, until I went down to Foley (Alabama). EDPA had provided a grant and helped a plant there, and I had been invited to attend the grand opening.

“After the program was over, a lady walked up to me and said, ‘I just want to thank you. I am now going to earn a salary that will allow me to send my kids to college.’ Now, I can’t tell that story publicly without almost tearing up. Because it taught me that we are not in this just for the numbers. We’re in this because we can change lives.”

The Power of Stories

That story will be implanted in Neal for the rest of his life. It touched him, and stories will do that. They become a part of our DNA and have been so ever since early man painted images on cave walls.  We remember stories, we appreciate stories, we even think in terms of stories or narratives.  We collect them whether we know it or not. In business and in life, stories become a part of us.

Some people are just natural story tellers. Mike Bolton, a sports columnist at the Birmingham News, certainly has that gift. Mike could double me over in laughter with his tales, most of which poked fun of himself. I remember one he told about a New Year’s eve party that he went to as a hell raising young man.  Much alcohol was consumed that night.

When Mike wakes up the next morning, he finds himself outstretched on the front lawn. He stumbles into the party house, where his buddies are all laid out. He makes his way to the bathroom mirror, where he cannot help but see that his face is scorched red and his mustache is burned off. Even his tongue is burned. Something is very wrong.

Then he learns the truth from his friends, who awake, see him with a burnt face and begin howling with laughter. They call him “a legend.” It seems that after Mike passed out on the lawn from too much fun, his drunken pals soon recognized the brilliant opportunity to shoot bottle rockets out of this mouth.

Now that’s the short version. When Mike, now a church leader and far removed from his rowdy days, gives this account, it is so much better because he has this gift for storytelling.  And I will always remember that story. I can’t prove it that it happened. Heck, I don’t want to. I just want to savor it, even if it has nothing to do with economic development or site selection.

Now the moral of the story is not to drink yourself into a stupor around riotous, drunken friends who might take a notion to entertain themselves by humiliating you in the process.  Thankfully, Mike’s friends did not shoot bottle rockets from another orifice.

By the way, Mike gave me permission to tell this story. He’s a brave man.

Sailing Across the Deep Blue Sea

But now I want to tell a story that may very well go into our book about economic development and site selection. It comes from Ron Ruberg, a veteran site selection consultant, and I first heard it last fall on a fam tour in Northwest Florida. It was there that I noticed that Ron, like Mike, could spin a yarn.

Ruberg and his colleagues at Location Advisory Services are hired by a California-based printing company to find a location for a future corporate headquarters. Consummate professionals, the consultants have done their due diligence. They have had extensive interviews with senior management on the musts and wants of the company. They understand the drivers of the project and are confident that their findings, a recommendation of three communities, will be well received by an executive committee within the company.

The big day comes. Seven senior managers fly in from California to New Jersey for a meeting at Ruberg’s office.

But it soon becomes soon apparent during the meeting that all is not right. After presenting the findings on each community, Ruberg detects a lack of enthusiasm, a quiet unsettling feeling in the room. Finally one of company executives breaks the silence.

“Ok, I’ll bite the bullet,” the exec said. “Look, guys, I don’t know what happened here, but there is a tremendous gap in one of the things that we wanted. Let me put it to you this way, of the seven of us here, five of us are avid, avid sailors. We go into competitions on a monthly basis. The other two also sail, but they don’t compete. None of these sites you’ve presented are near any water.”

Ruberg said the company execs were magnanimous and did not blame him and his consulting colleagues for the apparent gaff, acknowledging that probably no one in the company ever mentioned sailing and proximity to water as an important factor to be considered.

The company eventually chose Annapolis, Md., which had substantially higher operating costs than the communities that were recommended.

“Once they saw it (Annapolis), that was it. It’s a gorgeous place, and that’s where they wanted to be, close to the water where they could sail,” Ruberg said.

The moral of this story is that is somewhat similar to Neal’s story in that it’s not always about the numbers. Choices on where to build a plant or locate a corporate headquarters will often entail an emotional aspect that goes beyond the numbers.

Apparently, in the long run, the idea of pursuing a hobby – sailing – trumped most other business considerations and factors on where that corporate headquarters would be located. Now you may think of that decision as being unprofessional and even selfish. But I bet there are some people employed at that corporate headquarters in Annapolis today who are rightly thankful that the decision happened the way it did.

Ants, Goats and Idiots

Space will not permit me to tell you the full story about an automotive CEO, in search for a billion-dollar plant in the Southeast, finding himself getting bitten in an ant-infested van, which would get a flat tire on the site and have him stranded with his economic development hosts, without a backup vehicle planned for. Now that is priceless. Then there is the one about goats in a building, told to me by a Chicago-based site selection consultant. Truly a classic.

And how could I forget the story about the prideful, small-town mayor who told the company prospect during a community tour that his town had a very low crime rate, because, brace yourself, there were so few black people in his commmunity. The visiting corporate executive’s face turned into a grimace and the visit ended quite abruptedly. The moral of that story, of course, is that you should never, ever advertise that you are a racist idiot.

So there you have it. A sprinkling of tales from the trenches. We’re looking for all kinds of memorable stories — stories where you struck gold and stories where you struck out. If you have been involved in project recruiting for more than a few years, either as a site consultant or an economic developer, you no doubt have a few treasured yarns locked away in your memory.

Please consider sharing them. It may take a little swallowing of pride to tell about past mistakes made, of the big fish that got away, but think of it as a service to the young people who are entering this crazy business. (I almost called it a profession.)

So let’s hear your stories. Operators (Neal and I) will be standing by.

Need a partner in results-oriented site selection? Contact Dean Barber at 972-890-3733 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Barber Business Advisors, LLC, is a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com