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Tips for Working with Economic Development Agencies to Get the Best Results

9 Jan, 2014

By: Kay Brockwell

As a corporate real estate decision maker, you’ve narrowed down your choices for your company’s expansion. You’ve targeted a region, chosen a state or states within that region, and you’ve researched potential sites and locations exhaustively.

It’s time to contact the locals. At that point, a whole new ballgame begins, one in which the players will have a wide variety of skills, talents and resources. You are, likely, working through the state economic development departments; if you are the “pros” of the site selection business, they are at least the Division I college players; skilled, educated, talented, working under the direction of a single coach.

But you’re about to move down into the high school ranks. Some of the players will be extremely talented, but perhaps a bit on the rough side. Some will be well-versed in the game, but may be short on the talent side. There will be Class A organizations and Class AAAA organizations, and they won’t have the same abilities or resources. There will be communities that will amaze you with their ability to anticipate and deliver what you want and others that will need more specific play-calling from you.

How do you get the best results? How do you help coach those players along, ensuring you get the best out of them, and thereby ensuring that your company, or the company you represent, has accumulated the best and most complete information available in order to make the best location decision?

First, bear in mind that, outside California and the Atlantic seaboard between Washington, DC, and Maine, this nation is still predominantly rural. And while cities are growing as more of the population migrates into them, in one sense, the United States is growing even more rural, as the non-metropolitan areas are populated by a smaller share of the people.

For example, in Arkansas, there are no more than a dozen economic development organizations with more than a single trained economic development (ED) professional on staff. And while Arkansas is one of the smaller states, with a population of only about three million, its ration of urban-to-rural is likely not a great deal different than, say, Minnesota or Kansas or Ohio or Georgia.

That single ED professional is generally charged with recruiting, business retention and expansion and community development duties. While your contact rises quickly to near the top of his or her list of responsibilities, it does not do away with the other duties and simmering crises; he or she will always have to keep some portion of his or her mind on the other balls he or she is keeping in the air.

How, then, do you acknowledge that and work with it to ensure you get the information you need, of the quality and caliber you need, in the timely fashion in which you need it? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Be as clear and specific as you can about what information you need.

  • Make yourself available, either directly to the local professional or through the state project manager, to answer questions about the RFI.

  • Include as much information about the project as you can in the RFI without endangering confidentiality.

  • Make it known which of your requirements for a building or site are “must-haves” and which are simply preferable. If you need 50 x 50 column spacing and 40 x 40 is a deal-breaker, say that.

  • Give the local professional an opportunity to include, within limits, other information he or she believes will be relative to your search. The information may be worthless; but it may be something you did not know about the community that either lifts it above the pack or completely rules it out. Regardless, it’s something you need to know.

Remember that you have just become a very big fish in his very small pond. The ED agency wants to please you and wants to make a favorable impression on you by quickly and efficiently giving you the information you need. Helping the ED agency to do that to the best of its ability will pay off in dividends for you and your company.

About the Author

Kay Brockwell

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