More than 600 companies invested $9.5 billion in industrial investment within the 10-county Upstate between 2012 and 2016, creating more than 25,785 jobs across manufacturing and distribution sectors.
Fueling growth in housing, banking, retail and food service sectors, these numbers signify successful business recruitment and retention efforts by the Upstate’s economic developers. But so many often wonder: how does this process start, and how do our economic development organizations fit together?
Upstate SC Alliance President and CEO John Lummus and Jacob Hickman, director of Business Recruitment, shared insights into business recruitment during a recent Coffee & Conversation.
Q: Can you tell us some about your work?
Jacob Hickman: “Our primary targets are the company (an operations, finance or C-suite representative) and site consultants the companies hire to locate their projects. Site consultants are data-driven; there are projects that we may miss from our Metropolitan Statistical Areas and technicalities such as distance to a major international airport, for example. That’s where maintaining relationships with site consultants comes in – because they know about our region’s assets and the connectivity out of GSP, there may be an instance where we fall outside of the data requirements but are still considered.
The companies we identify are within geographic regions that are industrialized and often heavily unionized. We’ve identified markets within the U.S. and overseas that have similar manufacturing processes to us. It’s a long process that begins with listening to their needs and sharing the strengths of our region. When a company that we’ve been talking to finally asks for more information, we provide a spreadsheet with basic information that identifies the company’s facility and community needs and outlines the project. With that, we’ve already submitted wage information for this region to them, so throughout the process we’ve shown them the cost side for their operation within this region.”
Q: What questions are most frequently asked?
John Lummus: “The main thing they ask is about workforce. They need to know that they will be able to find employees.”
JH: “That’s the top of everybody’s mind right now: ‘Where are you going to find the people?’ We do have that as a challenge here, and it’s no secret. What I tell companies in response to that is that ‘We have a strong proactive approach to solving workforce challenges (with Clemson, CU-ICAR, the technical college system). Everybody’s dealing with a skills gap; everybody has a people issue. Who’s doing the most to remedy that?’”
Q: At what point in the conversation do tax incentives come up?
JH: “If we’re dealing with a CFO, it’s the first question they ask. It’s part of the initial discussion, but we need to be careful not to get bogged down in those details initially; the Department of Commerce has a comprehensive guide, and every county is different. We keep our conversations focused on the region’s collective strengths, assets and other cost of doing business factors like wages, unionization rates, and energy prices.”
Q: How do you work with the Department of Commerce? And with the Local Economic Developers?
JH: “It can be a complex matrix, how we flow information through the state and through this region but our goal is to make it somewhat seamless for the companies considering an expansion project. We work closely with Commerce to represent Team SC when speaking to businesses throughout the world, and we assist in providing regional-level data to Commerce-initiated projects during the process.
As for working with our Local Economic Developers, we see ourselves as a conduit between the company and their community. Once we’ve identified the sites and buildings within the region that meet the project’s technical requirements, we connect the prospect with the corresponding economic developers, and they’re the ones who ultimately close the deals. Once the project has narrowed down to a specific county within our region, our work is done.”
Q: People often ask how the Upstate SC Alliance avoids playing favorites – can you tell us how community compatibility with projects is determined?
JH: “We’re unbiased. All 10 of our counties are the best counties, as far as we’re concerned. … I want the prospects to select a county that is the best fit for them. Because what we do not want is for a company to come here, not have a good experience, and five years later, they’re out. It truly is a company-driven process. We all know that if a project lands in Pickens, it’s good for Oconee, Anderson, Greenville. And, in addition to that, we’re going to get some suppliers to complement it. It’s all so much more than one project.”
Q: How can investors become involved in business recruitment?
JH: “We encourage our investors to be part of the process. You all have customers within this area; what we can really use is the feedback and intelligence that you’re collecting.
We understand the need for confidentiality, so the best way that an investor can be involved is to include us on a project that they may be working on. If you’re working with a client that’s looking to build here, if you bring us in, we can help by mitigating the risks and knocking down the costs associated with that site or building.
Volume is part of our focus: how many companies can we get in front of? How many site consultants, how many points of contact – indirect or direct – that are involved in the entire process? For us, everybody in this room is involved in the process. When we’re out mingling, we never know who we’re going to bump into that has a customer who told them they are expanding or looking to expand in the Southeast.
We also use our printed investor directory as a resource provided to each of our prospects, and it demonstrates the level of private-sector support for economic development within this region, as well as the depth of business experts available to help them make a smooth transition.
This public-private setup is not unique, but I think this area truly does it the best. Whenever possible, we try to bring people in for a quick meeting – and sometimes, it’s only 20 minutes. We hate to only expose people for 20 minutes – but you all understand, it goes a long way to be able to accommodate a company and what they want to accomplish in a short amount of time when they come to visit.”
Danielle Besser is the public relations coordinator for the Upstate SC Alliance.