Author Archives: Janet Ady

AS I SEE IT | The Economic Development Ecosystem, and a Focus on the Role of Regional EDOs

This is my second of five columns on the topic of the ED ecosystem. My first column focused on local EDOs and subsequent columns will focus on the role of state EDOs and utility ED.

Regionalism is here to stay. Why? Because regional EDOs add value to the economic development ecosystem.

Regional EDOs provide a number of key benefits to site selectors and the companies and people who are looking to relocate or expand. First, they provide a geographical jurisdiction that is more representative of labor sheds than a city, county, or state jurisdictional boundary. People don’t pay attention to jurisdictional boundaries nearly as much as economic developers and planners do! For this reason, talent initiatives and target industry analyses are a natural fit for regional EDOs.  

Second, regional EDOs provide a very convenient point of contact for site selectors. As we zero in on a region, we are not sure yet which sites and buildings will be the best fit, and instead of sending an RFP to dozens of local EDOs, we can rely on regional EDOs to play that intermediary role for us during the early stages of a site location project.  

Lastly, regional EDOs are also in a good vantage point to provide both tools (sites and buildings databases, business retention, and expansion software, etc.) and capacity building to the local EDOs within their region. I would argue that the collective capacity of the local EDOs within a region is one of the biggest competitive differentiators a region could have, and therefore, a worthy goal of each regional EDO.  

To learn more about how our suite of services can help your ED ecosystem really hum, visit our website at www.adyadvantage.com or give us a call at 608.663.9218. I or a member of my team would be happy to speak with you.

AS I SEE IT | The Economic Development Ecosystem, and a Focus on the Role of Local EDOs

In our work with hundreds of EDOs across North America, we have found more than a couple of truisms. One that I’d like to expand on here is that every part of the economic development ecosystem has a role, and every ecosystem is most effective when each member is strong. I’m defining the members of the ecosystem as local EDOs, regional EDOs, and state EDOs, along with utility ED partners. This column focuses on local EDOs, and I’ll address each of the others in future, sequential blogs. 

Local EDOs are, let’s face it, where it all happens. I often assure local economic developers that even though the regions, states, and utilities are all involved in economic development, it’s the local economic developers who are guaranteed a seat at the deal table at the end of the day. That is because all economic development is local – it all comes down to a specific site or building, and that always involves a local economic development representative.  

One of the fears that local economic developers often have is losing their unique identity when being grouped in as part of a region. My advice would be that individuality and differentiation are critically important, and are even more so when you are part of a strong region. Companies, people, and site selectors are not looking for homogeneity within a region; we’re looking for unique, individualized places working together.

What is it that local EDOs must deliver on? First, they need to provide the product. Readiness and preparedness are indicators of a successful local EDO. Are your sites and buildings ready to go? Are your development processes business-friendly? Do your programs and incentives support your economic development growth goals?

Second, local EDOs must deliver on local knowledge. Can you provide insights on the local labor force, training programs, incentives, local employers, etc.?  No matter how much data you can find online, there is always a consideration for the local expert. Based on your local knowledge, you should be able to craft a unique positioning for your community and have clarity of the types of workers and companies that would place the greatest value on your particular mix of economic assets.

The third main deliverable at the local level is alignment. It’s been several years ago since my good friend Bob Hess from Newmark Knight Frank stated, “Alignment is a powerful concept in economic development.” Indeed, it is. Alignment means your local stakeholders are educated about economic development and are on board. Alignment mitigates the uncertainty and risk that can otherwise kill a project, thus making it a very powerful intangible for communities.  

Ultimately, the goal is for each local community to deliver on these three factors – product, local knowledge, and alignment. If you’re operating on all of these bases, your community is going to be well equipped to get more than its share of the types of projects that are the best fit for your community.  

To learn more about how our suite of services can help your ED ecosystem really hum, visit our website at www.adyadvantage.com or give us a call at 608.663.9218. I or a member of my team would be happy to speak with you.
 

AS I SEE IT | Drivers for a Relocation or Expansion Decision

 

Is your business landlocked, making it difficult to grow at your current location? Is your lease up, with unfavorable terms looming? Or maybe you’re getting ready to sell the business, and the new owners want to move into a new building?

After having worked with companies all across the country, we have learned that manufacturers who choose to relocate and/or expand typically base their decision on one of the following four reasons:

  1. Access to talent. Many relocation decisions are driven by companies who simply cannot find the quality or quantity of talent they need in their current location. Across the board, this is the most common driver that we see.
  2. Access to markets. Companies may want to be closer to their supply chain and customers. Or, as is more often the case these days, they may wish to set up a new operations base to combat competitive inroads. For example, setting up a base on the East Coast serves as a warning to foreign competitors who may be looking to start operations in the U.S. because of our emerging trade policies. 
  3. Access to unique infrastructure. Some companies need to be near deep-water ports or airports with long runways. Others might need access to millions of gallons of water per day. These types of needs end up driving the short list for their location decisions. 
  4. Costs. Of course, all finalist locations are judged by costs, both one-time and ongoing operating costs. Even if a decision is being driven by access to markets or access to talent, the site selection consultant will still be doing a 10-year discounted cash flow to compare finalists. The only difference is that the locations will vary based on whether the driver is talent, market access, or infrastructure. 

Because the wrong decision can set a company back for a long time, or even threaten its existence, those that use site selection firms are at a distinct advantage to those who do not. We know where to get the information on labor markets and costs, and are also experts at intricate tax laws, incentives, and more to help you make the right choice.

Need a professional to guide your company through the site selection process? Contact the Ady Advantage team at 608-663-9218.

AS I SEE IT | The Value of a Strong Economic Development Ecosystem

There’s an old saying that goes like this: Economic development is a team sport. Like many old sayings, there is a lot of truth to this one. We work with hundreds of economic development professionals each year, including a good mix from state, regional, and local economic development organizations (EDOs). As a result, we understand that each of these entities has an important role to play and that the performance of any one is dependent on the ecosystem (state, regional, local) in which it operates.

One of the implications of this is the differing – yet complementary – roles and expectations of each type of economic development group and, given these differences, the value of working together to present the complete package. The table below, while simplified, points out some of the key differences.

So, what does this all mean? In short, EDOs are going to be the strongest and most competitive if they are part of an ecosystem that is working together. Each has a vested interest in how all the EDOs within their ecosystem are working, not just their own.

If you need help improving the strength of your economic development ecosystem, give the Ady Advantage team a call at 608.663.9218. We have the experience and skills necessary to help you bring meaningful, lasting change to your community.

AS I SEE IT | Avoiding Risk when Expanding

If you’re thinking about expanding into a new location, you may be interested in learning about what economic development groups are doing to try to convince businesses to invest in their communities. The below summarizes the three Site Selection Megatrends that I have seen, as well as implications for manufacturers that are considering relocating or expanding. 

Site Selection Megatrend #1: Mitigation of Risk

Economic development groups are working to be more ready and more aligned to mitigate the risk and uncertainties that companies face when making business relocation decisions. 

What does this mean for companies that are considering relocating or expanding?

  • There is a trend toward shovel-ready or certified sites. This means that all the key aspects of a particular site have been checked and re-checked, with a goal of eliminating any costly surprises.
  • Increasingly, incentives policies are being developed to attract the kinds of businesses that are the best fit for a community, to ensure that these projects get preferential treatment.
  • More and more small- to medium-sized companies are retaining the expertise of professional site selection firms. Companies don’t usually have the expertise to do these one-off projects in-house. The costs of a wrong decision are high, and professional site selectors’ goals are aligned with your business’ goal – to select the best location, all costs factored in, to grow your business. 

Site Selection Megatrend #2: Regionalism

A local community is only as strong as the region and state in which it operates. All three need to be aligned and competitive for a community to be successful in attracting business investment.  Sometimes, statewide policies keep a state in the running for a specific project. Other times, a state can be removed from consideration immediately because of its policies.

What are the implications for companies looking to relocate or expand?

  • Ensure that the site selection process includes a systematic analysis of state-, regional-, and local-level information. Too often, companies jump to a single location they are familiar with, potentially focusing efforts in a state whose business climate is incompatible with their business goals, a region without the right type or amount of workforce, or an infrastructure that’s inadequate. 

Site Selection Megatrend #3: Increasing Competition for Business Investment

With the increasing awareness of economic development and competition for at least the higher-profile projects, economic development groups are being challenged to differentiate themselves to an ever discerning customer. 

What are the implications for companies looking to relocate or expand?

  • You have to understand what your objectives for relocating are. Just as we advise communities, regions, and states to know what types of projects are good fits for them, each company must do the same work from its perspective. What are the most important criteria for your business relocation decision? Is it talent, including access to a phenomenal community college? Is it to be near where the engineers and R&D staff want to live? Or, is it about changing your company’s culture? These are just a few examples, but point out the wide range of criteria that are possible, even for companies in the same industry. 

Seek the advice of a professional site selector when you’re deciding whether or not to relocate or expand. We at Ady Advantage can help determine what criteria are important to you as well as ensure that the finalist locations satisfy those needs. To learn more about our site selection services, contact Janet Ady at [email protected] or 608.663.9218.

AS I SEE IT | My Wish List for 2017

 

2017

I’m optimistic about 2017. I think that project volume will continue, and I’m excited about the strategies that economic developers are devising to address issues ranging from talent to housing and brownfield redevelopment. And while our industry is as advanced as it has ever been, there is still room to separate the best from the rest. Here is my wish list for 2017.

  1. List your sites and buildings, and keep those listings current. Many site selection projects start with a search for available sites and buildings, and if you are not taking advantage of the systems available to you, you could be missing out on projects without even realizing it.
  2. Bring the electric utility in upfront, especially for larger, energy intensive projects. First, there’s no downside to bringing in the utilities early in the process; it can only help. To that end, if you identify a site on your own that ends up not having the electric capacity or redundancy that a project requires, we’re going to be unlikely to give you another shot because we’ll be too far down the road to look back and start over. And only the utilities have the latest information on where in their system they have the excess capacity within the timelines that we require.
  3. If you say your site is rail-served, please make sure it actually is. It’s not enough to be next to a rail siding or even a mainline unless the train can stop and pick up cars. Work with the railroads and engineering firms that specialize in these specific types of projects to understand what is possible, under what timeline, and for what cost.
  4. Know your costs before we come to town. This is one of the biggest fatal flaws according to site selectors. Here’s an example of how to do this: We were working an e-commerce project and had identified some finalist communities. One of them focused on this target industry and had data about their cost structure relative to B2C delivery from UPS, USPS, FedEx, etc. Seems obvious, but if there’s an industry you are pursuing, do the work to understand your costs.
  5. Be able to articulate what your area’s unique assets are and connect the dots as to why these translate to benefits for companies within your target industries. Better yet, understand which regions you compete with for specific types of projects, and what your competitive advantages (and weaknesses) are.
  6. Be upfront with deficiencies. I’m not saying to lead with these, but acknowledge any shortcomings and tell us what you are doing to address them. Assume that we’ll find out anyway; it’s for the best if you don’t try to hide or deny any weaknesses. As my dad used to say, “No place is a utopia.”

As a second generation site selector, I bring the site selector’s point-of-view to each of my economic development projects. If you’re looking to improve your site visit performance or your responses to RFIs, we at Ady Advantage can help. Feel free to give us a call at (608) 663-9218 or drop me an email at [email protected] to find out more about our suite of services.

AS I SEE IT | The Biggest Disconnect Between ED Professionals and Site Selectors on Website Content

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Ady Advantage has developed, audited, and advised on hundreds of economic development (ED) websites. The key theme is that no matter how much technology platforms evolve, content will continue to be king and strategy will continue to be what differentiates your region from others.

Here’s an example from a recent Ady Advantage study that helps corroborate my claim: When asked how important certain characteristics were of an ED website, Site Selectors ranked Target Industries as the most important out of the thirteen options provided. In comparison, Economic Development professionals ranked Target Industries as the tenth most important characteristic. Why is there such a significant disconnect?

As I see it, site selectors use “target industries” as a proxy for “this community, region, or state knows what their assets are and what types of projects would be a good fit.” Going back to the first Site Selectors Guild Conference, I remember Dennis Donovan from WDG Group sitting up on stage and declaring, “If you don’t know what your brand is, then I don’t either. And I don’t have the time to figure it out.” 

The message is that in this world of fierce economic development competition, you have to differentiate yourself. It is no longer sufficient to simply say that your location is “a great place to live, work, and play!” In fact, just saying that statement is a detriment as it suggests you don’t know what type of businesses would place the greatest value on your particular mix of assets. (This is what we at Ady Advantage call “reverse site selection.”)

And one more thing: When you do get to listing your target industries on your website, it’s no longer enough to just list the usual suspects (Advanced Manufacturing, Transportation, Office, etc.).  Kate McEnroe from McEnroe Consulting makes the point that you have to do the work to understand what kind of advanced manufacturing, for example, would be the best fit for your region and why. 

If you’re thinking of updating your website, make sure you have target industries on there and, most importantly, that you are specific about the types of industries and companies that would be the best fit for your community and why. That is one of the most valuable pieces of information for site selectors to understand. If you do this well, you will differentiate your community from the thousands of others out there. 

At the end of the day, strategy matters. For help with determining your economic development strategy, including identifying your target industries and updating your website in adherence with site selector standards and ED marketing best practices, feel free to give us a call. We’ve got your back, and our 50+ years of combined industry experience makes our team the best suited to help you get from where you are to where you want to be.

AS I SEE IT | A Recruitment Website Does Not a Talent Strategy Make

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One of the challenges facing most rural communities today is talent. This may be evidenced by a small labor pool, an aging labor pool, and/or one that is flat to declining. The first point that I would like to make is that these challenges are not unique to your community, region, or even state. Many places are in the same boat as you.

Even though talent challenges are complex and it can be difficult to determine where to begin, my work with dozens of rural economic development organizations (EDOs) has taught me some lessons that you can apply.

  • The first place to start is to determine what the driver or drivers of your particular talent challenge are, beyond the broad strokes of “not enough people.” Is the main driver that young people are leaving the area after high school? And if that’s the case, is that because they don’t realize what jobs are available and have no knowledge of manufacturing, or is it something else entirely? If you don’t know what problem you are solving, you will be unable to determine the correct solution.
  • Once you’ve defined the problem and its causes, then you can start developing solutions. I know that the good-meaning people on your board and in your community will want to start here, but solutions aren’t effective until the problem and its root causes are addressed. This is where your community partners – higher education, K-12, workforce development boards, and more – might come into the picture. 
  • Track, adjust, and repeat. Once your first initiative is rolling, track its progress, and adjust as necessary. When you’re ready, start the process again to address another talent challenge.

Some tips:

  • Ask for input from area employers. This will give you a baseline for what the current and expected future job requirements are. Employer perspectives are very different than what you will get by talking to individuals themselves or the groups companies work with, such as workforce development boards and educational institutions.
  • Start with a bite-sized challenge, solve it, and then move on to the next one. Biting off more than you can chew will just set you and the community back, right at the time when you need to be building momentum. 
  • Be strategic. The talent problems we face today weren’t created overnight, and they won’t be solved overnight. Be smart about how you’re going to address them rather than just throwing things until something sticks. 
  • It’s not all about talent recruitment; in fact, it’s likely going to be about talent retention and development. Just like the business development side, the fact is that most of the talent your area will have in the future is going to grow out of what you already have rather than be recruited from some far-away place. 

So, to complete the circle on why a talent recruitment website does not a talent strategy make: This is the most common knee-jerk response to a lack of workforce. Maybe it’s even worked in the past. But, if you’re an economic development practitioner in a community of 5,000 people with 100 open positions, I can tell you from experience that this is not going to work for you unless it is part of an overall talent strategy

Need help determining what your talent strategy should be? Please contact us at 608.663.9218. My team and I are experts at seeing through the clutter and prescribing talent solutions. Last year, we released our Talent Toolbox for Economic Developers – a book that shares the stories of various economic developers from around the country who successfully implemented systematic plans to help them overcome their talent challenges. The book is a “toolbox” in the sense that it provides fresh ideas and insights that can be used by others facing similar situations to create meaningful, lasting change. For a copy of the book order form, click here.

AS I SEE IT | Your Talent Issue is Not Necessarily the Same as My Talent Issue

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Over the past couple of months, as part of our consulting work, my team at Ady Advantage and I have talked to dozens of manufacturers across the country.  Most of these conversations took place on-site at their facilities.  Looking back, it is apparent that talent, or lack thereof, is a concern for many of them.  Following are some of the trends and approaches to this wide-ranging problem that we noticed:

  1. Drill down to the root cause(s).  Even if your talent issue has a lot of the same characteristics as an issue faced by another manufacturer in another region or state, the root cause(s) may be different.  Are people not accepting jobs because they can drive ten miles further (with lower gas prices) and make more money?  Are they just showing up long enough to get unemployment?  Or, maybe shortly after they start they realize the work is too hard, and they don’t feel capable of doing it.  You can see from these examples that the solution to each root issue would be different. 
  2. Talk to other manufacturers in your area.  As much as you compete with them for talent, this issue is a systemic one and should be addressed as a team than by multiple isolated efforts.  Rowing together will get you further, faster.  In many communities, several manufacturers have gotten together and, with the clarity of purpose that only manufacturers can demonstrate, served as the rallying point for real action. 
  3. Involve your local economic development team.  They have shared goals (retain and grow jobs and investment) and access to resources that you may not be aware of.  Economic developers can do their best work when their employers are engaged and working together. 
  4. Bite off one issue at a time.  It can be overwhelming to try and tackle every workforce issue at once.  Start with one of the easier ones, get a success under your belt, and then work on the next one.   
  5. Be prepared to measure the ROI, but it’s not directly comparable to buying a new piece of equipment.  Manufacturers are renowned for their ROI metrics, but this can make it hard to invest time and energy (and sometimes money) in “softer” things such as retention programs, soft skills training, Manufacturing Day activities with the local high schools, and so forth.  This is when it takes vision from the top to identify challenges (where you’re at), opportunities (where you want to go), and strategies (how you’re going to get there). 

If you’re facing talent challenges, we’ve got your back. Ady Advantage offers services to manufacturers ranging from research and competitive strategy to branding and marketing. Contact Janet Ady for more information at 608.663.9218.

AS I SEE IT | Six Reasons Why Economic Development is a Great Career Path

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When my dad started out in site selection consulting some 50 years ago, it was a pretty undefined career path, to say the least.  In fact, you could say the broader economic development and site selection industry was nascent as well, although some of the old timers will remember AEDC and CUED.  While it is important to remember the past, this blog is not about looking backwards, but looking forward to the next generation of economic developers, and to offer an unapologetically biased view of why economic development and site selection continues to be an excellent career choice.  Here are my top reasons. 

  1. Because you will make a difference.  In what other field can you help a struggling community thrive, or a mediocre community really hum? 
  2. Because you will never be bored.  I guarantee you that no two days will ever be alike.  For better or worse, you’ll never face the exact same challenge twice.  This means you will always be learning.
  3. Because you will be supported by your fellow economic developers.  If you get stuck, need new ideas, or just a pep talk, you’ll find that economic developers, even from “competing” regions, are as collegial and helpful as they come. 
  4. Because you’ll get to exercise every corner of your brain.  You’ll switch seamlessly from analyzing financials for a deal to trying to “read” a site selector and her prospect, and then try to explain complicated incentives to elected officials.  Sometimes all in the same afternoon. 
  5. Because you will meet a lot of interesting people.  Like that one developer who staged cows on his for-sale site to impress a dairy manufacturing company, never realizing until it was too late that one of the cows was, in fact, a bull. 
  6. Because you can carry your skills with you wherever you may travel in this world.   Whether you stay in your home town for decades, or want to travel to different regions, states, and countries, being an economic developer is a universal skill in need everywhere.  Unlike my friends who are literally rocket scientists and limited to living in a handful of locations around the world, you can live virtually anywhere. 

If you’re in the economic development industry, you likely have other reasons why you consider it a great career choice. I encourage you to add these to the comments section below to help demonstrate the “collegial” atmosphere I both know and love.

Ady Advantage is an international economic development marketing and research firm. If you’re interested in learning more about the industry, or if you’re interested in learning more about our suite of services, feel free to give us a call at 608.663.9218. I or a member of my team would be happy to speak with you.  Another great learning tool I often recommend which helps demonstrate the complexity of the issues in economic development is our series of “toolbox” books. They provide unique, in-depth insights into a variety of situations being faced by the men and women of this important industry all across the county. For a copy of the book order form, click here.

This blog is dedicated to my nephew, Nick, and all the other 18-year-olds out there trying to figure out what to do when they grow up.