Friday, August 21, 2009

A Special Thank You to My Staff

Economic development is simply a variation of sales. Let's face it, economic developers are selling a community to prospective companies that are in an expansion mode. The expanding company has very specific needs that are being addressed by the economic developer through the use of specific community assets (industrial parks, infrastructure, human capital, transportation routes, etc.). They are, indeed, selling the community. Now, it becomes much more complex than this, obviously, because expanding companies must look at the community's cost of doing business (labor costs, taxes, worker's comp rates, utility costs, etc.), location, availability of labor, proximity to markets, etc. So, the sales process must be enhanced with "tools." The "tools" that I refer to are, in the business, called "incentives." All things being equal - labor, location, taxes, etc. it often boils down to "incentives." The community with the best tools often wins. And, by wins, I mean gets the jobs and the investment. So, it stands to reason that the community that equips their economic development sales team with the proper tools - wins! Well, in PA, we are not so well equipped. In fact, we have NO "tools" to speak of. This is not to say that the State of PA has no tools, because they do, this is to say that "we" (locally) as sales people have no tools. And, this is an oddity in economic development circles. How do you not equip your sales team to sell? So, there must be economic development reform at the state level in order for individual communities to get their fair share of jobs and prosperity (but, that is for another day :-).

Now, to the point of today's blog. I want to thank my economic development staff for the incredible job that they do to create jobs and prosperity for the Oil Region. They have been able to attract, on average, 3 new companies to the Oil Region since 2005. In addition, they have been able to help over 2 dozen local companies to expand and become more modern and efficient, and they have been able to secure enough funding to increase the skills of over 1,000 incumbent workers. This is incredible considering the obstacles that are placed in front of them as they work to succeed for the community.

And, if you really want to be amazed, you need to examine what is required to get around these obstacles just to land 1 company. You have to sell the customer; you have to sell the state and convince them to use "their" tools to help your customer; you need local "buy-in" and support from the local elected officials; you have to rally the utility companies and workforce investment groups; you have to properly inform the local planning commission, and any and all state departments that might have to play a role in providing the "tools" needed to land this company (please keep in mind that this is not typical - usually one group is EMPOWERED and TRUSTED to speak for all of these entities). This process could take 3 months or longer. So, as you can see, many committed, talented, and caring people are involved to make this happen. The success is not of, or by, the Oil Region Alliance alone. This is a community effort. The Oil Region Alliance could not possibly get over such near impossible hurdles without the help of many fantastic people in the community. And, we thank all of the "partners in progress" for helping us do our job! Remember, this is what is required to land 1 company. Imagine juggling 3 projects like this!

So, thank you to John Phillips, Senior VP of Economic Development, and his staff Deb Lutz, Local Industry Manager and Deb McNerney, New Industry Manager for all of your hard work! Despite the odds!

I have other departments like tourism and heritage preservation and the staff of these departments work very hard as well. They do a tremendous job of working to make this community a special place to work, live, and play. Thank you for all you do! I will save their story for another day. please let me know your thoughts?

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