I-41 collaboration earns positive praise

Site selectors praise unified message, provide suggestions to improve attraction

Jessica Thiel
Posted by of Insight Publications

A decision to rebrand the Appleton-Fond du Lac-Green Bay-Oshkosh region as the I-41 corridor has paid off, based on the feedback of site selectors who toured area this week.

Steve Jenkins, president of the Fond du Lac County Economic Corp., says that in the past, the four communities had presented themselves as separate entities. Site selectors, who work to identify and choose locations for clients seeking real estate, don’t recognize jurisdictional, political boundaries, Jenkins says. Banding the four communities together gives the efforts critical mass, he observes.

“We’re very excited that on the business attraction front, we’ve come together as communities along the I-41 corridor to market a more robust region,” says Manny Vasquez, vice president of economic development for Fox Cities Regional Partnership.

Site selectors visited Northeast Wisconsin this week as part of two separate familiarization, or fam, tours. Two selectors from Texas and two from Chicago toured the I-41 corridor. In addition, New North hosted Ron Starner, executive vice president of Conway Inc. and writer for Site Selection magazine. Starner’s visit was designed to highlight talent initiatives in the New North.

Three of the four site selectors who toured the I-41 corridor gathered Thursday at the ATW Platinum Flight Center to share their observations.

The three shared positive feedback about the region, each remarking on the friendliness and positivity they observed among nearly everyone the encountered, right down to taxi drivers.

William Mellor, a site selector with AngelouEconomics of Austin, Texas, says in his position, he’s learned to develop filters that separate the authentic from the sales pitch. Everyone he talked to here, though, spoke of the high quality of life.

“It’s almost as though you’ve handed a script to them,” Mellor joked. “When everybody is giving that same message, that speaks very strongly to that particular strength, and that strength is quality of life.”

Mellor further commented on the strength of collaboration in the area, including ties between educational institutions and businesses. He stressed that going forward, it’s important to maintain that collaboration, even if the benefits don’t come immediately.

Mellor says that for his company, which focuses on technology and manufacturing, the region’s manufacturing assets and growing technology sector are appealing.

John Castro, of Cast-McCrane Co. of Plano, Texas, says the collaboration the region is pursuing stands out. “A lot of times, community collaboration just doesn’t work because it’s hard to get everybody on the same page with equal passion,” he said. “From what I’ve seen thus far, that doesn’t seem to be a problem here

Jerry Szatan, from Szatan & Associates of Chicago, emphasized the value of taking a regional approach and offered praise for the Fox Cities Regional Partnership’s Talent Upload program.

“The areas that will prosper in the future are the ones that win the talent war,” Szatan says.

In addition to positive feedback, the trio offered insights on what the area could improve. Szatan explained that clients working with his company typically are interested in existing available buildings. He stressed the importance of having available buildings.

Szatan further expressed concern over the area’s low 3.5 percent unemployment rate, saying that could raise questions about available workers. He recommended that community websites include a focus on worker availability.

Mellor cited two challenges. He observed that the area lacks a bit in the area of industry diversification, saying that it’s easier to weather tough economic times that when regions have more diversification. He further discussed the region’s climate but also said its cold climate could prove an asset when it comes to technology firms, saying that cooling costs are a significant factor for data centers.

Starner, whose fam tour focused on talent efforts, said securing information on talent is key to the decision-making process for site selectors. Starner’s work involves evaluating the whole package an area has to offer and helping clients choose a location that provides them the best opportunity. Increasingly, workforce is the most important component in that process, he says.

While he expressed a desire to see more downtown housing in some areas, Starner shared overwhelmingly positive feedback from his tour. He found the area attractive and well maintained, showing clear community pride.

“The water is one of the most compelling assets,” he says, going on to show an appreciation the area’s desire to preserve historic structures.