Dean Barber

Have Product, Will Travel

In Economic Development on July 7, 2013 at 6:38 am

As anyone who reads this blog probably knows, I have no desire to write like an academician or a typical business consultant, if there is such a person. That is simply not my voice.

Please plant a firm kick to my shins should you ever hear me lapse into that stilted and yet purposely vague “consultantese,” an abhorrent language designed to impress rather than inform. I much prefer a fine and wonderful language called English.

I am not so gifted as to be a natural storyteller, although I have met some who clearly are.  Story telling is a wonderful American tradition that goes far back into our history.

The mountain men, those who ventured into the wild recesses of the Rocky Mountains during the 1830s to trap beaver, were none too shy about inventing tall tales to entertain themselves and each during annual rendezvous, hell raising affairs to be sure.

As one historian put it, “To be a liar was as much a part of mountain honor as hard drinking or straight shooting. Embroider your adventures, convert to use any handy odyssey, and spin it all out in the firelight. The only sin is the sin of being dull.”

Business is War

That sin of being dull has largely been embraced in today’s civilized world, and is most notably evident with most business literature. And yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Business is war, as the Japanese say, and by its very nature, war is far from being dull.

As a former business journalist, I considered myself a war reporter of sorts. While I was never in harm’s way, I certainly wasn’t bored and I hope that was reflected in my published work at the time. Being a reporter gave me the opportunity to see things and tell it like I saw it.

I had a grand old time of it. And today, as a consultant, I am having fun as it offers me a certain degree of freedom. Like reporting, consulting affords me to opportunity to tell it like I see it. Sometimes clients don’t want to hear it, but if they are paying me, I figure I owe it to them. It is my responsibility to them, which I take quite seriously.

A Skeptical Community

This past week, I got a request from an economic developer in the Midwest to write down my views about a certain community that I had visited recently for the benefit of certain stakeholders. There is apparently some hesitancy within this community about making certain investments and probably a skepticism about this whole notion of economic development.

Now I can actually appreciate that. There is a degree of voodoo economics to economic development. There are few if any guarantees that if you do this or that, such and such will result. Of course, that is true of private enterprise in general. In short, we are not living in a chemistry lab.

(I recently saw a spec building that has sat unoccupied for 18 years proving that point. Judging by its architecture and location, it may sit another 18 years without a tenant.)

Also, I can understand the city fathers having this overarching desire to be prudent and judicious in the spending of public tax dollars. They have a fiduciary responsibility that must be taken seriously. I applaud them for recognizing that and having a fiscal conservative nature.

An Offered Truism

But I am going to flip the coin as there is an old adage in business which I think is true: You have to spend money to make money. In short, a community has to invest in itself if it is to have any chance at having an outside source, a company for example, invest in it.

Now that community investment can take many shapes and forms. It can be education and  workforce development. It can be infrastructure. It can be aspects of quality of life, parks for instance, or it can be real estate for commercial or industrial use.

As a site selection consultant, I will tell you that I am partial to publicly-owned industrial parks or parcels. Much of the time, although not always, a majority of the infrastructure is in place and there is no profit motive to overcome. Rather, the community (if it is smart) will empower a local economic developer to do a deal with job creation as the motive.

I know many places where, given a certain project of a certain size, if the ROI or cost-benefit analysis formula works, that community would give free land to a prospective industrial user as an incentive. I’ve yet to meet any private developers or owners willing to do that. Nor should they.

You Must Have Product

But the bottom line is a community has to have suitable product in terms of buildings and/or sites. And that is because there is and always will be a real estate aspect to site selection, although a proper site selection process will always transcend real estate matters alone. That last point is something many real estate brokers do not understand, as they are consumed with the transaction, which is understandable as that is how they get paid.

Of course, I could argue that is just but one reason which sets my consultancy apart. I will never attempt to place a corporate client on a piece of property where I will make more money, which is why I work on a flat fee basis. No real estate commissions here.

Enough on that. This blog is not meant to be an overt advertisement for my services. Notice I said overt.

But going back to my two bigger points, which are this: A community has to have product and it has to be continuously investing in itself if it is to successfully compete for jobs and private capital investment.  Those will be the only places that I will travel to as finalist communities in a site selection project. That’s just the way it is.

With the Best of the Best

I wish I could have reported that the Fourth of July was completely restful for me, but my wife, aka “the little general”, would not have it. A former Army paratrooper, she had me participate with about 100 others in a 10-mile hike through mostly shadeless terrain in searing temperatures.

But it was for a good cause. The North Texas Military Association is an organization formed to help military veterans and it is quite evident that the organization is doing great service to assist those who have served our great country.

So essentially I was hiking with soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen, many of whom were still in active service and some of whom were humping a 60-pound rucksack wearing fatigues and desert boots. 

I can tell you they are the best of the best, these veterans. They give so much for love of country. It was an honor to walk with them.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm in Plano, Texas — http://www.barberadvisors.com Telephone: 972-767-9518 Email: dbarber@barberadvisors.com

If your company needs an optimal location for future operations due to expansion or consolidation, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing by leveraging strengths and addressing weaknesses, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

© Unauthorized use of this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dean Barber and Barberbiz with specific direction to the original content.

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  1. Dean, thank your for your comments.

    It is difficult to sell from an empty wagon. It is also difficult to leverage funds to develop product in the current economy. Thus we find ourselves in a “Catch 22” No money to spend on land and infrastructure and little or no new investment in the community, leading to falling tax base. Not a pretty sight.

    Thanks again for the information, as always, I enjoyed it.

    • You are not in an enviable position, Alan. But if there is any solace, many other rural counties in this country face a similar dilemma. Stokes County, however, is lucky to have you at the helm. Best of luck.

  2. Dean, Good article. Sites have been on my mind a good deal lately. Everything happens in a place. If you have a good place, it might be the right place, no guarantees. If you don’t have a good place, even marginally good, it won’t be the right place, guaranteed. That was easy; the rest tends to get messy as Alan notes. Best regards.

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