Thursday, November, 17, 2005

Consultant calls county ‘diamond in the rough’

Staff Writer

A small and dedicated group supporting economic and community development participated in a TVA sponsored Community Preparedness Seminar last week.

A site location consultant for TVA after touring portions of the county told the group to do everything it can to help existing industries to stay here and to go to work on solving the education problem.

The site consultant, Del Boyette, also suggested the county and municipalities find how to bring in new retail and commercial business to keep spending in the county and draw shoppers from other areas to Marshall County.

“You have only so many hours in a day, so think about how you spend them,” said Boyette.

He suggested community leaders try a four-pronged strategy to get more prospective businesses and industry to the county and said not to put too much of the effort on attracting new manufacturing which is on the decline in America and also in Mississippi, albeit, to a lesser extent.

Boyette was impressed with the potential at Chickasaw Trails Industrial Park but said he hopes it will not be promoted for use solely for distribution. Commercial development should also be encouraged, he said.

He warned that leaders should be careful to glean every opportunity for growth for the county.

“Y’all have got to make sure growth comes here instead of jumping over Marshall County,” he said.

He called the county a diamond in the rough.

“It is still beautiful even when it’s in the rough,” he said. “I would say Marshall County is definitely a diamond in the rough and the cut you will give it will be up to y’all.”

Based on his morning tour of the county and observations, Boyette suggested:

  • economic planners get a strategic focus and learn how to respond to inquiries from developers and how to develop and present a proposal to site scouts.
  • community leaders be aggressive and proactive in doing everything possible to keep existing industry.
  • “We all know so much of business is based on relationships,” he said. “I would work to build and develop relationships with existing industries and understand what their needs are.”
  • focus on the three most important things industry and business is looking for and be prepared to address those three at the state and local levels. Leaders should look at successful retail markets in surrounding areas and start building retail markets in a focused way

Education is an important key for economic growth and development, he said.

“My perceptions are your K-12 education is not what it needs to be,” Boyette said.

Level 5 (the highest level for comparing schools in the state system) still leaves plenty of room for improvement, he said.

Boyette said education often lags 20 years behind the current reality of what the marketplace is looking for in terms of preparation for employment.

“We are educating people for an economy that they can’t survive in,” he added.

He noted that economic development takes years to get going.

“It just doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “I think if you set up some strategic efforts and goals and these four things, you will see results in 10 years.”

Industries are using new tools, the Internet for example, to find information about prospective sites to relocate, instead of the old-fashioned brochures.

TVA consultants said data is available from a wide range of sources, and consultants often cull communities from their long-list of potential sites without the community ever knowing they are being looked at. By the time a community makes the short list and is contacted, prospects already have a lot of information about the community, they said.

“Think of yourself as a Collierville or a Cordova; see things you don’t like and do like and focus on the things you do like,” Boyette said.

He added that leaders should focus development efforts on increasing capability and competence and a strategy to get there.

In summary, proactive retention of existing industry and improving education would yield fruitful results, Boyette advised.

He reemphasized education, and said, “Communities that are successful long-term are those that have a good public education system.

TVA’s Phil Sharre asked what the best thing is and the one thing that needs improvement in Marshall County.

“Probably the best thing is location,” said IDA executive director Bill Renick. “We are expecting our workforce to support that growth. Our people will come to work and do what they are supposed to do.”

Renick said the workforce need improvement to meet the requirements of a technology-driven world. Competition is tremendous, he said.

Bill York said the area and the people in it is the best thing about Marshall County. The county needs to take advantage of the potential for growth that the transportation corridors offer, he said.

“The people,” said Conway Moore, zoning director, are the best thing.

“The best thing is a very, very strong history and natural resources,” said Sarah Sawyer, executive director of Byhalia Chamber of Commerce.

The county’s image is something that can be improved, she said. She suggested stronger marketing to promote a positive image.

History, people, tourism and natural resources are the best thing, said Susan Jordan, executive director of Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce.

“We need more community involvement and motivation to join the battle,” she said.

Dorothy Buck with the Holly Springs School District said education could be improved.

Larry Hall, county administrator, agreed that education and image need improvement. The best thing is location, he said, adding the county is working diligently to improve infrastructure.

“We are in the right place, now,” he said.

Kevin Dodridge, manager with Northcentral Electric Power, believes the transportation corridor and lay of the land provide the best opportunities for growth. There needs to be more unity and less self-criticism, he said.

“If we are waiting for someone to push some buttons, we never get there,” said county school superintendent Don Randolph. “If we could do in the entire county what we are doing on Highway 302, we could create a tax base. The potential is here and we need good leadership.”

Randolph agreed that people are the best thing about Marshall County.

Sharre said informed and well trained leaders are key to community development.

“Community preparedness is part of TVA’s role in economic development,” he said.

Some important information Sharre provided included:

  • Thousands of communities compete for relocating or expanding businesses and industries.
  • Certain “fatal flaws” will knock a community off the site list of a company.
  • Communities must be development ready and be able to close a deal. Successful communities plan for infrastructure and cover their bases. Appearance and community attitude are important.
  • Economic development is a team effort. Factors impacting economic progress include the physical sites, roads, attitudes, leadership and teamwork.
  • Leaders should pinpoint fatal flaws and find out what makes their community stand out among the rest.

Site Selection
Companies may use their own personnel to locate sites or hire a consultant. Most communities do not even know they are under consideration as a site for a new industry or business until a company has already pared potential locations down to a short list, Sharre said. They usually collect information from website data bases without a community knowing it is under consideration.

When a community is contacted, usually in Phase II, the community is usually on a short list of about 10 being considered.

Communities should have information prepackaged and be ready for a site visit. Phase III, the final round where perhaps two or three communities are still in the running, is where sales behavior comes into play.

Renick reported that the county’s website is partially completed and should be close to complete by December. He urged the community to go to, look around, and offer feedback to the IDA office.

“The geographic location will get you a lot of looks,” Dodridge said.

“We’re getting them every day and responding to every one of them,” said Renick. “We are setting a lot of hooks in the water.”

Tim Weston, with TVA said once a community starts to provide a cohesive front, things happen. He used Tupelo as an example, saying it is a “feel right community.”

“They maintain a workplace that is non-union,” he said.

Phase III is where community members are asked to come in and help close a deal, Weston said.

Renick said Marshall County is on everybody’s radar screen right now and competition for sites is tremendous.

In the last 60 days, Marshall County has seen half a billion worth prospective investment, he said.

“The point is if you are getting looks, you’re moving ahead in the right direction,” said Sharre.

Site selection is either a state-driven or a community-driven process, he said.

“Eventually, the site becomes the driving factor,” Sharre said. “It is important to know not all prospects are the same and you have to understand owner-operator prospects may be attracted to certain quality of life things. You need to know who you are dealing with, the CEO or the president.”

Sharre said quality of life issues do not matter until a community has made the short list.

“Quality of life issues may be decided by one to five people in the company,” Weston said.

The tipping point toward the end may be something the plant manager or top management wants in a community, he said.

“I’m a little confused,” said Renick. “You say quality of life is not a big part of Phase I. What do you mean, a specific thing like education or a hospital?”

“It could be the high school graduation rate,” said TVA’s Deborah Cameron. “You have to make the business case before you start selling based on quality of life factors.”

She added that a hotel worker or waitress expressing a bad attitude toward the community in front of a client has been known to kill a deal.

“If the community is doing something to cure their ills, that can be the best selling point, because everyone has flaws,” Weston said.

Cameron noted that companies send out mystery shoppers to check on community attitudes.

“Maybe the first hit you get is a Phase II or III,” said Hall.

‘Maybe where we are now academically is not important,” said Randolph. “The fact that the state demands accountability may be important. It seems like a poker game to me. Is it the education or how good is the bar tender (how the bartender treats the client)?”

Community Sales Team
Cameron said the community ultimately is the one to really close the deal.

The attendees offered traits they think determine success vs. failure.

Successful traits included building a team of folks who offer differing opinions, unselfish leadership, common sense, knowledge and experience, and commitment.

Unsuccessful teams are stacked with people with inflated egos, are quitters, lack leadership, are too busy or do not manage time well or who are not inclusive, they said.

Cameron said there should be people on the team who can make decisions and meet deadlines.

Three or fewer team members should meet with a prospect at any one time, she said.

Key Criteria
Prospects will want to know specific details about the community, land availability and other things, Cameron said.

Good site maps and detailed charts tell prospects more. Those can be made available on web sites or using other media.

Cameron encouraged the sales team to ask site scouts about the competition.

Once you have that prospect’s key criteria, you can find out how you stack up relative to the competition, she said.

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