There are many ways to promote the area to industrial and retail site consultants.
The Regional Growth Partnership went out of the box, holding a three-day event that included a helicopter tour to market the area nationwide.
“Over the summer, we did something that we haven’t really done for 15, 16 years — we had a Familiarization Tour, or we call them ‘FAM Tours,’ said Gary Thompson, Regional Growth Partnership vice president and director for JobsOhio Northwest Ohio Region.
“We had 10 site consultants that help businesses decide to locate investment into Northwest Ohio, and we took them all over for three days and let them meet companies that were doing expansion projects, so they got to meet people from Marathon Oil, Owens-Corning, Libbey Glass, North Star Steel, and all kinds of places and let them just really talk about issues that make their business successful,” Thompson continued.
“That really brought a lot of attention here as of late and a lot of inquiries about, ‘Hey, I talked to so and so who attended your FAM Tour, and maybe Ohio is the place to be that I need to start looking at.’”
Dean Monske, president and CEO of the RGP, added, “Site consultants are key targets because they are often engaged by companies looking to expand operations. It is critical that the RGP identify and build relationships with these decision makers.”
A special highlight for consultants during the FAM Tour was a helicopter tour over select Northwest Ohio Greenfield “mega-sites” in counties, including Lucas, Wood, Fulton, Putnam, and Van Wert. Information on the Overland Park Brownfield Redevelopment Center (former Jeep site) was also presented. The event ended with some rest and relaxation at the Lake Erie islands in Ottawa County.
“This was a great opportunity for Northwest Ohio to make a strong, face-to-face sales pitch to key decision makers who took the time to visit our backyard,” said Thompson. “Nothing like this has ever been done in Northwest Ohio and we believe it was a great success.”
Initial feedback from consultants supported Thompson’s thoughts. In describing the importance for communities in training their future workforce, site consultant Dean Barber made note of the numerous community colleges linked closely to industry in Northwest Ohio.
“Most of the liaisons and trainers at these community college have industry backgrounds and understand the language of manufacturing. They are not faculty lounge types with no real-world experience,” said Barber, who made the trip from Plano, Texas, where he serves as president and CEO of Barber Business Advisors, a site selection and economic development firm.
During the three-day event both Monske and Thompson did their best to promote Oregon, because both are former directors of the Oregon Economic Development Foundation.
While these type of events can bring in new business, current OEDF director Lindsay W. Myers said seeing local expansion is just as “sexy.”
“We have a couple projects in the cooker right now that are looking pretty solid and both of them are local expansions, but both would be pretty significant expansion in a manufacturing facility,” Myers said.
“I like to see our local people grow. I love recruiting the outside companies, those are the sexy, new projects that everyone wants to know about, but it’s the local ones that already employ people and then they are going to add 50 more jobs and do millions more in investment. That’s what gets me excited. It means we’re doing something right.
“We don’t have to sell a local company on why they should stay in Oregon because if they are here, and they are growing, and they are doing an expansion. We don’t need to tell them how great we are. I think they are sold on why Oregon is great. Obviously, their thriving is a testament to that. You know, when you are recruiting somebody, that’s when you have to go into your whole speech about your community.”
Reputation for hard work
With a labor market of nearly six million Ohioans, including more than 600,000 manufacturing employees, consultants say Ohio has the dedicated and experienced workforce that companies need for both short- and long-term success.
Testimonials of the region’s acclaimed work ethic really hit home, local consultants say.
“I think I had talked to a number of folks at the Center for Automotive Research in Traverse City, Michigan, and all kinds of people from the automotive industry are represented,” Thompson said.
“Every time they found out that I was from Northwest Ohio, (the workforce) was the biggest thing that was complimented. They would say, ‘Hey, we have a plant there and people are productive and show up to work. They do good work.’ If they are interested in making the company better or the business more profitable, I would echo those sentiments.”
The sentiment about the workforce spreads into Wood County.
“I would say for a lot of companies that are competing globally, now, the assets of the U.S. include that we probably still have the most productive and efficient workforce in the world,” said Wade Gottschalk, director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission.
“So in terms of when you get to value added, capital-intensive type of manufacturing, we are going to have the advantage there, because we have access to the technology and the skills needed to operate that technology,” Gottschalk continued.
“We also have, depending on what your markets is, transportation costs have increased over the last several years, and Chinese wages have gone up as well, and so if the gap between the cost of making it all-inclusive and trying to ship it here goes up, it’s going to make U.S. manufacturing compete more effective, especially as our productivity continues to increase.”