Dean Barber

Archive for January, 2018|Monthly archive page

In Pursuit of Business and Deer

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on January 23, 2018 at 9:23 am

This much we do know – that economic development is business development. And business development means, in some form or fashion, outreach.

If we are to further break it down in the simplest of terms, and I think there is value in doing that, then it follows that much of what economic development organizations should be doing is about reaching out to businesses.

This holds true whether businesses already exist in a community or are outside a community. One forms the basis for business retention and expansion (BR&E), while the other is the bedrock for attraction.

And yet despite stating what might seem the obvious, I’ve come across more than a few economic development organizations that are not so accomplished at business outreach. They don’t know where to start. They don’t know how to start.

This past week, I was engaged by the Lake Martin Economic Development Alliance in Alabama to show them the wheres and hows. Using my laptop computer, I sat down beside Denise Walls for most of a day and showed her how to cross reference and hone in on potential prospects using a variety of methods that I have learned over time. We identified prospect companies, decision makers within those companies and then “scraped” for phone numbers and email addresses.

The following days I would be looking for scrapes of a different sort.

Develop Your Base

Years ago when I was a newspaper reporter, I somehow came to understand that it was vital for me to develop trusted sources who would tell me things, sometimes on the record and sometimes off the record.

I was only as good as my sources, people to whom I developed relationships with over time. Years later, when I became an economic developer, I took that journalistic model of developing sources and applied it to building a network of business contacts.

Periodically, not too often as to be annoying, I would “touch” my contacts – sometimes by telephone, sometimes by email — to see how they were doing, if there was anything new happening with their company, and inform them of things that I thought might be of interest.

And that approach worked. I found projects, some of which resulted into substantial capital investments by companies. It’s a system that I have never abandoned but have only refined now that we have social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and host of other platforms.

Now, too, we have the benefit of digitally-based CRM and research tools at our fingertips that can help us determine who the corporate decision makers are, where they went to school, and even their hobbies.

Where to Start

The Lake Martin Economic Development Alliance is not unique in the fact that it has been largely dependent on the state to bring it projects, to which I would quote Dr. Phil: “How’s that been working out for you?”

That is not a cut at the Alabama Commerce Department, but rather a declaration that all local economic development organizations, no matter where they are, will have to tackle business development on their own.

You got to start somewhere and slowly but surely building a base of contacts, inside and outside your community, is a pretty good place to start. Indeed, I would argue that it is foundational, just as it was for me as a newspaper reporter in developing my sources.

If you are an economic developer and are not on LinkedIn, then I have to wonder what in the hell are you doing. I’m serious. And if you don’t have at least 500 contacts on LinkedIn, are you being serious about business development?

But here is a cautionary note and one that must be said. Business development is very time consuming and is far from being a perfect science. I’m not sure it’s even an art so much as a methodology. Mistakes and miscues will be made. Rejection comes with the territory. There are no guarantees.

Then What?

It might take me three minutes to find a CEO’s email address and direct phone number or it might take me three hours. Or I might not be able to find it at all using all my tricks of the trade. And even if I do find the desired contact information, then what? How do I best make contact and what is my message?

The hard truth is that business development is a rocky road to travel, which was the subject of a blog that I wrote in 2015. Since then, I have come up with a more refined way of developing contacts, to which I am willing to share to those so interested. (Using LinkedIn is only one segment.)

But the basics are that you must build your base of business contacts, you must continually expand and update your base (people do leave jobs), you must periodically touch base with your contacts, and you must develop a tailored message approach that clicks with people.

Your goal is making an emotional connection, developing a relationship of trust. Without that, you’re just making noise.

Study Up

Tailoring a specific message to a specific contact or contacts that will create a favorable impression is one that many economic development organizations struggle with. Your message to senior executives in the food processing industry will be and should be quite different from that of automotive suppliers. One size, one message, will not fit all.

What that means is that it is incumbent on economic developers to develop a deep knowledge of their target industries and about business in general. In short, it means studying up on the subject matter, knowing the players, the drivers, trends and challenges, of any particular industry sector.

At Consultant Connect’s annual Economix event last month in New Orleans, it was revealed that economic developer’s No. 1 gripe about site selection consultants was the frequently imposed short deadlines for submitting information on projects.  Their No. 2 complaint — that many consultants come off as arrogant know-it-alls, to which I would agree.

Default Contacts

A primary criticism that site consultants lodge at economic developers is that they (the economic developers) are not particularly good students of business. Too often, they have no deep understanding of their target industries; hence, they are unable to talk turkey to them. I would also agree with this assessment.

This lack of study, lack of industry knowledge often results in economic development organizations limiting their marketing efforts to only site selection consultants at the exclusion of prospect companies. It’s precisely because of their lack of knowledge that economic developers see the consultants as their default, go-to contacts.

To make matters worse, much of the material sent to the consultants is marginal at best. On almost a daily basis, I will get an email from ED group that should never have been sent to me, but rather should only have been directed to internal stakeholders within the community.

Come to our community breakfast next week and hear animal control officer Bob Jones speak about recent coyote sightings at local craft breweries.

“He walked right in liked he owned the place. But he couldn’t belly up to the bar and ask for a pint, because, you know, they’re short little fellows.”

Do No Harm

I got an email today inviting me to a four-hour jobs fair for hotel and restaurant workers in a city in Virginia. I remember that my first job as a teenager was as a dishwasher in the kitchen of a hotel restaurant, but I no longer have aspirations to work my way up to busboy.

These why-in-hell-are-they-sending-me-this emails used to irritate me as it was apparent that the offending ED group had made no attempt to sort its database for marketing purposes. Now I take it more in stride, knowing full well that I can always unsubscribe if things get too out of hand. (I don’t like to do that but have.)

Just as in the Hippocratic oath, when it comes to email marketing, which is always a bit of precarious undertaking, I would advise economic development organizations to do your best to do no harm, knowing full well that you will always get some unsubscribers. Again, rejection comes with the territory.

Back in Bama

I had a good time in Alabama last week, a place where I lived for 23 years. The state is coming off some big wins of late, the $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda in Huntsville, gunmaker Kimber to build a $38 million plant in Troy, and strong indications that Canadian-based Bombardier may build a new aircraft assembly line in Mobile.

Then there is that national championship with Nick Saban and the University of Alabama. Intangible but notable nonetheless.

My trip was both for business and recreation. After showing Denise how to build a contact base by identifying prospect companies and decision makers within those companies, I subsequently joined old friends for a two-day deer hunt on a beautiful, remote piece of property that revived my spirits.

Exercises in Pursuit

We stayed in a small farmhouse, where there was no TV, no internet service, not even a cell signal for my phone. After dinner each night, there was chopped wood and a fireplace to enjoy, along with craft beer and whiskey. With that came, good fellowship and meaningful conversation. The hunt was just a backdrop. Just an excuse.

I saw plenty of deer but never took a shot, because it wasn’t the right shot or the right deer to take. But spending time alone in a serene natural setting gave me time to think.

Business development and deer hunting are both exercises in pursuit. In business development, you want to be noticed by your quarry, to even get their full attention. But it is the pursued that largely calls the shots on what eventually happens.

In deer hunting, you want to go unseen, unheard and unscented. You don’t want your quarry to know of your presence or the fact that you even exist. And then, if circumstances permit, you take the shot. Or not.

Pondering on that while sitting in a ground blind, a rifle on my lap, I nodded off asleep.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas. Dean is available as a keynotes speaker and can be reached at dbarber@barberadvisors.com. Visit us at Barberadvisors.com

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Alabama Zen: The Ways of Nick Saban and Toyota

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on January 14, 2018 at 9:54 am

There were problems to be overcome. But in the end, the systems were the solutions. Two belief systems, both focused on continuous improvement and with roots in Eastern philosophy, made national headlines last week.

And Alabama was the big winner as a result.

For Nick Saban, the University of Alabama’s football coach, there is “The Process” – a core belief that players should focus solely on execution and the immediate task at hand and not be distracted by past events or future outcomes.

And last Monday night, the Process prevailed. The Crimson Tide, a team utterly void of any superstars, rolled and won its fifth national championship in the 11 years that Saban has been its coach.

Two days later, there was evidence of another, not unsimilar process at work when Alabama edged out North Carolina as the winner in a multi-state contest for a prized Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. joint car factory worth $1.6 billion.

The Nature of An Assembly Plant

To understand the problem facing the Japanese automakers and why a 2,400-acre site near Huntsville was chosen, you must understand what an automotive assembly plant is. Add to that backdrop one of the main pillars of the Toyota Production System, which is Just-in-Time production.

It means transporting only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed.

In some respects, today’s automotive production line is not that much different from when Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line for auto production in 1913.

Then as now, vehicles are mechanically moved to the workers at individual work stations where parts are added in sequence. Those interchangeable parts have been acquired and shipped in from other companies, which are the suppliers.

By the time a car or truck reaches the end of the production line, all the parts, almost all of which have been manufactured offsite by the suppliers, are fastened and attached, resulting in a brand new ready-to-drive vehicle rolling off the assembly line.

The Toyota Way

The fact that Toyota already has a substantial number of suppliers near the general vicinity of North Alabama, serving its other assembly plants in Blue Springs, Miss., and Georgetown, Kentucky, was probably the difference maker as to why North Carolina was not chosen.

Much of “The Toyota Way” is about conserving resources and eliminating waste. Had North Carolina been chosen for the assembly plant, it would have required building entirely new supply chains and an array of supplier plants. Such a move would not be conserving resources.

Which is probably why at the end of the day, when North Carolina was offering $1.5 billion in incentives, Toyota instead choose Alabama, which offered a state and local incentive package totaling about $700 million.

Of course, I am assuming that Toyota, the largest automotive company in the world, was, in effect, the managing partner with Mazda in choosing the site. The future Huntsville plant will be Toyota’s 11th assembly plant in the United States. Mazda currently does not manufacture in the U.S.

Back to Fundamentals

So what can we learn from this?

In some ways, it should be very reassuring to economic developers everywhere, including North Carolina, that basic business principles trumped (no pun intended) the financial incentives that were offered. While substantial, the Alabama incentive package was less than half that of North Carolina’s.

Two things stand out in my mind. First, incentives cannot make a bad location decision good. That is something that all companies truly should understand.

Second, logistics, the art and science of moving resources and which began as a military precept, is very much a basic business principle and certainly a major cost factor that should be understood by all manufacturers. But curiously it is often not given proper due consideration in the site selection process.

We know, for example, that a relatively short distance between two competing sites can mean millions of dollars in reoccurring transportation costs on an annual basis.

So Toyota’s choice in Alabama was a nod to the fundamentals, something that Saban stresses with his Alabama teams.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

It is interesting to note that both in Saban’s Process and in The Toyota Way, there is a consistent, ongoing emphasis on team, respect and getting the fundamentals right. It’s all about focusing on becoming the best that you can be, knowing that there is always room for improvement.

“The key to the Toyota Way and what makes Toyota stand out is not any of the individual elements…But what is important is having all the elements together as a system. It must be practiced every day in a very consistent manner, not in spurts.” — Taiichi Ohno, Japanese industrial engineer and considered to be the father of the Toyota Production System.

“Eliminate the clutter and all the things that are going on outside and focus on the things that you can control with how you sort of go about and take care of your business. That’s something that’s outgoing, and it can never change.” – Nick Saban.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” — Zen proverb.

Both Saban and Toyota subscribe to the idea that no matter how big or small the task may seem, the focus should be on the task at hand, which will help you develop a habit of always doing your best. Do your work, do it well, and when you find success, do it again and always strive to improve.

This is very much rooted in Zen doctrine. A worker on the assembly line in the Toyota Production System can stop the entire line if a problem is detected or to introduce change and improvement.

Go to the Source for Facts

At Toyota, as part of its “Chie to Kaizen” continual improvement mindset, there is this concept of “Genchi Genbutsu,” which means “going to the actual source and getting the actual facts” so as to make the correct decisions. Decisions should not be based on data alone, but one must have a deeper understanding of the problem at hand.

For Toyota and Mazda, the problem was picking the right site for the joint assembly plant. It was enshrined by the news media nationwide and opining consultants like myself who were not involved in the project. We voiced our opinions with little knowledge of the facts.

And whether they knew it or not, the Japanese managers and the assisting JLL team practiced Genchi Genbutsu as they did go to the competing megasites in North Carolina and Alabama to get the facts.

I do not know of any site selection consulting firm that would not take corporate client to the finalist sites under consideration to get the facts and gain a deeper understanding. In that sense, we’re all Zen.

Learn from Loss

“The best things come to those who wait” was a slogan used in an advertising campaign by the H. J. Heinz Company in the 1980s to promote its ketchup. However, that is not a truism in business.

What may be a truism is that good things happen to those who prepare. In 2008, Volkswagen passed over the very same Huntsville site in rural Limestone County that Toyota and Mazda chose in favor of a site in Chattanooga.

“When Volkswagen came, we weren’t ready,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said Wednesday night. “”… We didn’t have the soil compaction, we didn’t have the environmental, we didn’t have the utilities to the site. We didn’t have plans on roadways. We didn’t have everything necessary to make those sites a success. We took a learning lesson off of the loss of Volkswagen.”

But this time around, the Limestone County site was ready. The prerequisite work had been done for it to be certified in 2016 as a TVA megasite, meaning that all the basic infrastructure to accommodate a large manufacturing plant was in place.

At a press conference in Montgomery last week, Toyota President Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder, said he had fond childhood memories of spending time in Alabama as a Boy Scout.

And we all know the Boy Scout’s Motto, “Be Prepared.”

I’ll see you down road.

Dean Barber is principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas. Mr. Barber is available as a keynotes speaker and can be reached at dbarber@barberadvisors.com. Visit us at Barberadvisors.com

The Times They Are a-Changin’

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on January 6, 2018 at 7:40 pm

On August 16, 1964, Lowell Eggermiers walked into a San Francisco police station, and announced, “I am starting a campaign to legalize marijuana smoking. I wish to be arrested.” Whereupon he fired up a joint, and his wish was granted.

In 1964, possession of marijuana was a felony crime in every state. A first conviction for a minor possession could result in up to a year in prison, which is about what Eggermiers served.

James R. White III, a libertarian attorney who described himself as “to the right of Barry Goldwater,” organized the original marijuana reform advocacy group, LeMar (Legalize Marijuana) in 1964 to support Eggermier’s defense.

Also in 1964, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a Bulgarian-born Israeli chemist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, identified delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as the active psychoactive compound in marijuana.

When asked why he chose to do research on marijuana, Dr. Mechoulam replied, “Well, a scientist should try to find topics of importance.”

New Horizons

About two weeks after Eggermier’s arrest, on Aug. 28, 1964, Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to marijuana. It was also in 1964 when Dylan wrote and released the title track of an album by the same name, “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” an anthem for change.

Fast forward to today, in doing the research for this blog, I came across the website of the 1964 Supply Company, which describes itself as “a cannabis lifestyle brand run by a collective of craft cannabis artisans and industry pioneers.”

According to the company, 1964 “marked a time of change and new horizons.”

Pot’s Gone Mainstream

Certainly, times and attitudes have changed. A Quinnipiac poll in August found that 94 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana and 75 percent oppose the government enforcing marijuana prohibition in states that have chosen to legalize.

That coincides with an October Gallup Poll discovered that 64 percent of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana, and that only 20 percent of support the federal government enforcing federal laws in states that have already legalized the substance.

Certainly, it would appear that legal marijuana has gone mainstream. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), cannabis is used by 16.2 percent of the population of the United States, the second highest, no pun intended, in the world. (Iceland is the highest at 18.3 percent.)

California was the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana in 1996 via a ballot initiative. So it was not surprising that it became the eighth state in the nation to allow for legal and regulated recreational marijuana, again approved by a ballot initiative on Nov. 8, 2016.

A Huge Economic Impact

By virtue of the fact that California is the most populous state in the union, approaching 40 million, and has the world’s sixth largest economy, the market for marijuana there will be very large.

A study by the Agricultural Issues Centre at the University of California, Davis predicts that sales from recreational cannabis will eventually reach $5 billion a year. The state already sells marijuana worth more than $2 billion a year for medical purposes. For comparison, Colorado sold $1.3 billion in total, for recreational and medical use, in 2016.

The UC Davis study coincides with forecasts by Green Wave Advisors that California should reach $5.3 billion in retail sales in its first year. But there are plenty of other predictions, all of which agree that this is a big and growing industry.

The recently released Green Market Report forecasts sales in California at $9.1 billion to $11.5 billion to $11.5 billion, with the creation of 160,000 new jobs, while ICF International estimates the California market could reach between $15.9 billion and $20.2 billion per year.

According to cannabis research firm ArcView, the North American legal marijuana industry grew by 34 percent in 2016 to $6.9 billion, and is expected to grow by an average of 26 percent per year through 2021.

“The total economic output from legal cannabis will grow 150% from $16 billion in 2017 to $40 billion by 2021,” Arcview said in a statement. “U.S. consumer spending on legal cannabis in 2021 of $20.8 billion will generate $39.6 billion in overall economic impact, 414,000 jobs, and more than $4 billion in tax receipts.”

In its report, “US Legal Cannabis: Driving $40 Billion Economic Output,” Arcview states that the legalization of adult-use sales in California will lead to the creation of nearly 99,000 cannabis industry jobs and 146,000 indirect jobs in the state by 2021.

About $1 billion dollars in wholesale, excise, and cannabis-specific sales taxes were taken into state treasuries during 2016. Arcview forecasts that number to grow to nearly $2.8 billion by 2021. Adding local sales taxes, the 2021 figure could jump to $4 billion and $4.7 billion.

ICF projects California to earn between $2.4 billion and $3 billion a year in tax receipts from sales of marijuana. The state’s current budget deficit is $1.6 billion.

But Hold On There

By me quoting all these economic impact guesses, and that’s truly all they really are, you might think that I am a proponent of legalization.

Actually, I am quite torn on this subject. Mind you, I view myself as a live and let live kind of fellow. For example, I have no problem with gay marriage. To quote that great Texas icon Kinky Friedman, “I support gay marriage. I believe they have a right to be as miserable as the rest of us.”

But I have qualms about the legalization of marijuana. While I do not want to see a person’s life ruined on a minor possession charge (and therefore favor decriminalization), my reservations about legalization are rooted in the workplace.

Workforce Concerns

In my capacity as a consultant to industry, if I were representing a company in a site search for a location for let us say a future manufacturing plant, and if that site search area were to include a state or states where recreational marijuana was legal, it would behoove me to voice concerns to my client about absenteeism, productivity and workplace safety. As workforce is a primary factor in a corporate site search, those are, in my mind, proper considerations.

I would also advise a corporate client that the possibility exists that they could face legal challenges to drug-free workplace rules in jurisdictions where marijuana is legal. I’m merely saying that this is something to take into account, and I would not be serving my client well unless we did have that conversation.

The bottom line is this: In states where recreational marijuana is legal, is there a greater chance or frequency of some workers being impaired while on the job? I’m not sure we know the answer to this.

But Paul Bittner, partner and vice chair of the Labor and Employment Group at the law firm Ice Miller, contends that that legalization of marijuana can have many ramifications on the workplace, including:

  • It will affect a company’s current drug policy.
  • It may impact the overall safety of a company’s employees, suppliers and customers.
  • It could affect a company’s hiring procedures.
  • It can affect a company’s standing with the federal government.
  • It may affect a company’s insurance policy and rates.

A Possible Indicator?

And while it is by no means a perfect comparison, The Denver Post reported in August 2017 that the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time, federal and state data show. (The legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado began in late 2012.)

Colorado transportation and public safety officials, however, say the rising number of pot-related traffic fatalities cannot be definitively linked to legalized marijuana. But if more people are hitting the streets impaired, might they be doing the same at work?

An article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in May 2015 concluded that there is a likely statistical association between illicit drug use, including marijuana, and workplace accidents. While some studies suggest that marijuana use may be reasonably safe in some controlled environments, its association with workplace accidents and injuries raises concern.

And therein lies my concern. I believe that data in forthcoming years will give us a better picture of the effects of legalization of marijuana on the workplace. In other words, we shall see.

Jeff the Moralist

Having said all that, I believe decriminalization of marijuana nationwide makes sense and that Congress should act to do just that. Decriminalization means that a given activity no longer qualifies as criminal conduct and can only be treated as a civil infraction, if that.

Criminal convictions can have devastating consequences on a person’s life, making it difficult for them to obtain employment, bank loans and housing. So I have to think that decriminalization is needed to repair the damage done.

But we have an ill-informed attorney general in Jeff Sessions who has made claims that have been dispelled by science, such as cannabis’s gateway effect and the idea that marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

Furthermore, having last week rescinded a trio of memos from the Obama administration that had adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws, Sessions takes a moral stand, saying “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

I live in Texas, and anybody who says that Willie Nelson is not a good person is just wrong. To quote former Texas Governor Rick Perry on Nelson’s long-time use of marijuana, “You gotta love Willie.”

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas. Mr. Barber is available as a keynotes speaker and can be reached at dbarber@barberadvisors.com or at 972-890-3733.