An Inside Look at How Cities Win Investment Projects

photo - downtown Reno, Nevada
photo - downtown Reno, Nevada
Downtown Reno, Nevada, where one of the companies profiled in the podcast chose to locate their startup due in large part to the city's welcoming small business environment. (DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images)

When a company chooses a location for a major relocation or expansion, the details behind the decision aren’t often divulged in the media. This new podcast gives listeners an inside look at the site selection process, and the stories behind how the location was selected and what it took to close the deal.

This is a guest post by Andy Levine and Patience Fairbrother.

In September 2016, Alorica, a California-based customer engagement company worth $2 billion with 92,000 employees across the country, announced plans to establish an 830-employee customer engagement center in Owensboro, Kentucky, marking the largest economic development project in the city’s history.

If you saw the announcement in the media, you probably read about the projected job numbers and heard glowing quotes from company and community officials. What the press release didn’t tell you, however, is that the project almost didn’t happen. In fact, the facility that the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation (GO-EDC) originally intended for Alorica was exactly the opposite of what the company was looking for. It was, as Greg Bush, Divisional Vice President at Alorica, put it, “the same old thing.”

Closing the Deal

The story behind Owensboro’s successful but bumpy road to winning the investment was featured on an episode of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions,” a new podcast from Development Counsellors International (DCI) that gives listeners an inside look at how cities compete for corporate relocation and expansion projects. Every two weeks, the podcast features a recent corporate location decision and interviews with company executives, site selection consultants, and economic developers that reveal how the location was selected and what it took to close the deal.

The saving grace for the City of Owensboro, as the podcast revealed, was that the company’s project team fell in love with the city’s vibrant downtown, which Owensboro has spent more than $120 million to redevelop over the last seven years.

Greg Bush and consultant Jeff Pappas, Principal at E. Smith Realty, another key player in the project team, arrived in town the night before the site visit and instantly saw a place for Alorica downtown. The next day, they told Madison Silvert, President and CEO of GO-EDC, that they had to be downtown, or there was no deal.

Silvert, a bow-tie wearing lawyer turned economic developer, sprung into action to make the deal happen for the city. He called the owner of an old BB&T building downtown – a facility that he thought just might work for their significant size requirements – and set up a meeting for that day.

Lessons Learned

As Alorica tells it, Owensboro’s ability to switch gears and move very quickly to Plan B was what sealed the deal for the company.

This kind of detail – the kind that you don’t read about in a press release – is what makes “The Project” podcast unique. Seldom do city, state and economic development officials have the opportunity to hear directly from companies in a candid manner about the obstacles, pitfalls and turning points behind these complicated decisions – not to mention the “lessons learned” from their peers in the competition for jobs and investment.

In one episode which profiles Dana Incorporated’s decision to locate a $70 million manufacturing plant in Toledo, Ohio, the company reveals that, if the community hadn’t had the foresight to build a 100,000-square-foot spec building, the deal would have gone somewhere else.

In another, a women-run startup reveals that they chose Reno, Nevada, over locating in Silicon Valley because the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) went above and beyond to roll out the red carpet for the company during their visit. A key turning point for the project was a casual dinner where local business leaders joined the startup owners to talk frankly about the local business climate and their experiences operating there.

The Human Side of Corporate Location Decisions

An added bonus of hearing these stories directly from the key players involved is that it paints a more human picture of these seemingly inhuman, data-driven decisions. How does the project team celebrate when a major deal goes through? Madison Silvert says his first instinct was to go to church when he found out Owensboro had won the Alorica project.

In another episode, which features iCIMS’s decision to locate in a former research laboratory in New Jersey, the central characters make a deal to purchase a 30-year-old bottle of Macallan, which they joke will become a 31-year-old bottle if negotiations go on for much longer.

Ultimately, whether it’s over a bible or a glass of scotch, the characters featured on “The Project” have a happy ending and a wealth of insight for anyone dedicated to creating jobs and investment in their community.

About the authors: Andy Levine is the President and Chief Creative Officer of DCI and creator of “The Project” podcast. Follow Andy on Twitter at @DCI_Andy. Patience Fairbrother is a Senior Account Executive at DCI and producer of “The Project" podcast. Follow Patience on Twitter at @Patience_Fair.

photo - Andy Levine and Patience Fairbrother
photo - Andy Levine and Patience Fairbrother
Andy Levine and Patience Fairbrother
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