Most site selection consultants would probably agree that a place that invests in itself – in terms of infrastructure and/or human resources – is generally a more attractive place for future business operations.
In the quest to serve a corporate client well, I will seek a location to fill the bill in terms of specific requirements of the project, all the while weighing the risks involved. Risk is an underlying fundamental factor of all businesses, big and small, and is certainly paramount in the site selection process.
As I wrote in last week’s blog entitled “Site Certification: Saddle Up Old Kate,” there is no perfect place, just better places where the risks are lower and the chances for success are optimized. To be sure, it means an investigative and winnowing process on my part to determine just where those better places are.
In terms of the location of my own consulting business, I concluded the Dallas-Fort Worth area made a lot of sense for a lot different reasons that I will not go into here. But while it works for me, it most certainly would not be the best choice for many if not most clients that I would serve.
In short, they need to go where they need to be, which is where I come in. My job is helping them find that special place, where the risks can be better managed, whether it’s Maine or California, Canada or Mexico, and all parts in between.
But here’s the deal, and one that will boggle the mind of some economic developers. That special place doesn’t necessarily have to be all that special. It can be a best fit (or not) despite any and all branding efforts by an economic development organization.
This is Not Cheerios
It amazes me that some communities, so taken with this idea of brand, will go to extraordinary lengths in terms of time and money to differentiate themselves “from the competition.” They buy into the message of some consultants who impress upon them that their community is somehow uniquely special. We’re going to help you find your voice, the special message of your place. Now if you just sign on the bottom line here.
Well, folks, this is not Charmin and this is not Cheerios. It matters little to me or most corporate clients that you believe that you are so unique because of your annual dump truck festival or have the largest stuffed collection of two-headed calves in the world.
The truth is that your community may not be so different after all, but it still might be the best place for a company to do business. Here fit, not brand, rules. I’m not saying that marketing is irrelevant. Indeed, it is not. Rather, I am saying that you don’t have to strain yourself on the sublime in your never ending quest to differentiate yourself from the rest of the world.
I know of communities that have spent tons of money, only to come up with some goofy logo and marketing materials that they think will somehow make a difference when it absolutely won’t. We’re the “Tomato Sandwich Capital of the Southeast.” No kidding?
Chances are, your community does have some real assets that can be documented and leveraged, minus the goofball logo and tagline proclaiming yourself this or that. Tangible assets are a good thing, but it does not usually make you a unique world unto your own.
I try to think about a community’s assets and liabilities and how that can play out for a corporate client on a particular project. Certainly, I want to develop a better understanding of a community’s business climate in terms of permitting and regulation, transportation infrastructure, energy availability and cost, and get the behind-closed-door opinions of major existing employers regarding skill sets, prevailing wages, turnover, work stoppages. And a whole lot more.
As I alluded to in my opening, I take note of communities that invest in themselves. The question immediately comes to mind, why should a company invest in your community if you are unwilling to do it yourself? Think about it.
I realize that times are tough and that state and local governments are strapped for money. But when I see a community spending money on upgrading infrastructure or workforce training or even quality of life things like a park or walking trail, well, I tend to remember those things, file them away in the back of my mind. If you believe and invest in your community’s future, well, then I can, too.
A Golden Triangle in Mount Pleasant, Texas
Now I want to tell you about a friend of mine and a community in East Texas, whose efforts are worth remembering.
For purposes of full disclosure and transparency, I will tell you that I have done work for Charlie Smith and his Mount Pleasant Industrial Development Corporation (MPIDC). I worked with Charlie certifying two industrial properties in Mount Pleasant. During my initial visit to eyeball the properties (all subsequent work was done via computer and teleconferences), Charlie took me out to a workforce training center that was under construction.
Slowly I came to realize that this training center, while not totally unique, did represent something very big and very special to his community, because it brought together local government, education, and the business community together as buy-in partners. That’s no small feat, folks. (By the way, I think this is hard to do without a substantive business retention and expansion program.)
And it says something very important about the community and its vision for a future: We are willing to invest in us.
I like to think of government, education and business as a holy trinity or a golden triangle. Here in Mount Pleasant, I found that everyone had skin in the game, looking to the future where young people in the community would be better equipped to compete and work in a manufacturing environment.
The more I learned, the more impressed I became. Thankfully, I’m not the only one. This past week, Mount Pleasant was recognized for its startup Industrial Technology Training Center by being awarded a Gold Excellence in Economic Development Award at the annual conference of the International Economic Development Council in Houston.
IEDC Chairman Jay Moon cited Mount Pleasant’s “innovative and successful strategies “ and “using cutting-edge, effective practices that can be replicated in other communities.” To Charlie, the story goes well beyond the training per se that will take place. Rather, it was that golden triangle that he helped formulate and build, which made the training center possible.
MPIDC partnered with the Northeast Texas Community College and Mount Pleasant Independent School District to purchase, rehab and equip a building. Southwestern Electric Power Co. and US Steel were also investors in the project.
“A lot of companies, communities and schools have mutual needs, but they don’t really communicate with each other. We saw that where there were mutual problems, that mutual solutions were the answer,” Smith said.
Above all, it meant compromise. None of the parties got everything they wanted, but they got enough of what they wanted to make it happen, Smith said. The new center includes certified training at two levels in industrial maintenance, in two CAD programs and electrical technology.
The program advanced from concept to facility acquisition and remodel to startup in less than one year. At the end of year two, the center operates with more than 200 high school and adult students.
I like to think of this as basic blocking and tackling that goes far beyond the hoopla of brand. Again, this is a community investing in itself, and again, as a site selection consultant, I have to take note of that.
Now I cannot predict whether I will bring an industrial project to Mount Pleasant. Whether the fit is right is dependent on fate and the future wants and needs of a corporate client. If Charlie finds himself in the mix as a finalist community, he knows he’ll have to compete along with everyone else. I will try to remain an unbiased referee and counselor, knowing full well that my client makes the final determination.
But I will say that Charlie Smith has built himself a fine marketing tool (yes, I believe in marketing) for his community with his new training center, along with the certified sites that I helped him with. And I have to believe that there will be a payoff in time for the money spent. That’s what investing in the future is all about.
Somebody said, I don’t know who, but maybe it was a Texas rancher, that a calf can’t brand itself. I reckon not.
But it’s your money to spend. My advice: Spend it wisely, invest in yourself, and build your own golden triangle.
Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com