Dale Fowler: Attracting companies requires more than money

Sept. 21, 2010 at 4:21 a.m.

It's not always about the money.

Last month, I wrote about some of the financial incentives commonly used, in the name of economic development, to help attract new investment and jobs to a community.

As I said, incentives are important in today's competitive marketplace and help a community separate itself from the competition. Even so, incentives will never make a bad site good.

So what makes a site good enough for a company to locate their new manufacturing facility, distribution center or back office operation in Victoria?

Every project is different in this regard. Each new investment inquiry brings a specific set of objective criteria that the successful community must provide for the project to work on paper.

That always includes sufficient land and usually with infrastructure in place. It may include an existing building with exact specifications and possibly a variety of transportation options. A project may even require proximity to a particular feed stock supply to make their product.

Once all of the communities vying for the project are measured by the objective criteria, the company develops their "short list." Now, subjectivity plays a greater role in the actual decision process.

In many cases the very people who evaluate the sites will also be moving to the community and have responsibility for the successful construction and implementation of the facility. With that consideration, the process soon turns to evaluating the community - not only as a place to live, raise children and invest personally, but also as a community likely to possess or attract the workforce necessary to make the project successful.

Will we be able to attract the specialized talent needed if we locate here and will they come to this community? Does the community have the means to train new employees? What will I do when I am not working? Will I fit in? Is the community's infrastructure in good repair? What is the school system like? Is there a plan for the future? Does the community have leadership and vision?

Because we know these issues will eventually be important to our clients, we move quickly to make them aware of the region's training and educational opportunities and promote the Victoria College and University of Houston-Victoria.

We show them the new public schools that are a testament to the value this community places on education. We drive them to the downtown area where they see the construction and renovations taking place. We're proud to show off the new brick sidewalks and the downtown revitalization. We discuss the plans for a growing university and improved Texas Zoo and cultural events. We drive them by the Welder Center and museums. We see their enthusiasm grow as they realize how much Victoria has to offer in addition to their project criteria.

After the objective criteria are met, we also must build confidence in the client that all these resources can be brought to bear for their project to be successful and for their employees to be happy as a part of the community.

At this point, it's about leadership. When our community is in close competition with equally qualified communities, we must demonstrate there is leadership in place to carry the community well into the future.

If a company is willing to invest millions of dollars in Victoria, they want to know where Victoria will be in 20 years, not just next year.

When they consider Victoria, it's not always about the money; it's about the whole package.

D. Dale Fowler is president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp.



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