Potential businesses should be matched with what we offer | TheUnion.com

Potential businesses should be matched with what we offer

Any effective economic development organization understands that its primary responsibility is to support the needs of the employers who are already doing business successfully in the community. These companies have ongoing needs for new employees, expansion facilities, financial resources, government advocacy and training to name a few. Over the long term, these are the employers who will create the majority of new jobs in most communities.

This year, the Economic Resource Council has embarked on a more aggressive campaign of visiting our local employers to learn their issues and concerns, and to provide support where appropriate. These visits have resulted in many referrals to ERC partners for assistance in business planning, financial assessment, labor training and international trade. Our work will continue to support the manufacturing, research and development and agricultural sectors of our economy.

At the same time, recent job losses in Nevada County have been at a level high enough to where we cannot reasonably expect existing companies to grow at a rate that will absorb laid off local employees in the near future. This has caused the ERC to structure its 2002 work plan to focus more energy on the attraction of new employers into our area. A costly activity, an effective attraction program requires that an organization focus and target its approach to those employers most likely to be receptive to the notion of either establishing an expansion facility or relocating to Nevada County.

I recently had the opportunity to view an exciting, new marketing effort implemented by Destination Irvine, the economic development organization serving that Southern California city. The program involves the use of four very professional Flash e-mails sent over a six-month period to a purchased list of more than 7,000 targeted employers. When recipients click on a photo in the e-mail, they are taken to an attractive, high-quality, 60-second video and soundtrack that concisely describes the reasons why they should consider relocating their business to Irvine.

The six-month program has produced an impressive 35 percent response rate by employers, measured by hits on the Irvine Web site. It carries with it an equally impressive $90,000 price tag. Very nice, but not particularly applicable for use at the ERC.

You see, that $90,000 equals 65 percent of the entire ERC operating budget of $137,000 for all of 2001. The need for effective use of limited resources becomes especially important in small communities like ours.

How then, does a small, rural community go about attracting new employers to provide jobs for local residents? The key is in selectively targeting where dollars are spent.

ERC has chosen to direct its limited resources at four industry groups in an effort to bring new employers to Nevada County. The exercise associated with targeting takes several factors into account. First and foremost, it is necessary to identify those industry types most likely to match the specific characteristics of Nevada County. For example, we are aware that Nevada County has neither the available land nor the infrastructure to support the activities of a sizeable factory operation. Companies requiring large tracts of flat land, with employee counts of thousands or even several hundreds of employees are not compatible with Nevada County locations.

Next, we are aware that Nevada County housing costs can be prohibitive for those companies that depend on an employee base earning production-level wages. Our targets should be those types of companies that generally recruit labor in higher salary levels. Whereas we are aware that many basic manufacturers in Nevada County continue to be profitable, conversations with executives of these companies tell us that they face increasing difficulty in recruiting qualified production labor.

Finally, we would do well to look at the characteristics of those employers that are able to remain competitive over the long term in Nevada County. These companies are able to recruit the labor that they need, access raw materials and suppliers, and competitively ship finished goods. Understanding that we are generalizing for the sake of identifying likely attraction targets, these companies tend to be somewhat small, with anywhere from 20 to 50 employees, involved with innovative and creative technologies, not dependent on railroad or close interstate access.

The industries that ERC has chosen to pursue with its limited budget represent those that it feels will reasonably provide the highest chance of success:

— Broadcast equipment. As one of the world’s leading centers in the development and manufacture of equipment used in television studios, production and post-production houses, we have a highly talented and specialized labor force to support additional employers.

— Scientific glassblowing. An industry that plays a dominant role in the history of technology employment in Nevada County, we have a base of employment in this field that should be attractive to others.

— Medical manufacturing. This industry appears at or near the top of virtually all lists of projected growth industries nationally over the next many years. Nevada County has several companies already engaged in the production of medical equipment, again providing a basis for expansion.

— Information processing. Generally computer related, we have existing companies that are world leaders in the development of technologies used in cell phones, DVDs and other electronic equipment. The presence of these companies establishes the credibility of Nevada County as a potential home for similar enterprises.

Small communities like ours can be competitive in the search for new employers, as long as we recognize that our efforts must be reasoned and targeted. We have much to offer: an exceptional lifestyle, quality schools, a talented work force and a strong entrepreneurial history. Our challenge is to communicate these strengths effectively to those most inclined to value them.

Larry Burkhardt is president and chief executive of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council.

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