UP FRONT: Bringing it home

Posted on Dec 6, 2013 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

The Fox Cities region has the ability to be economically competitive on a national basis – but it needs to speak louder and find a way to quantify its intangible assets, according to a panel of national and international site selection experts.

Hosted in October by the Fox Cities Regional Partnership at the Outagamie County Regional Airport’s new Platinum Flight Center, the eight-member expert panel offered its findings after touring the area for several days.

“One of our biggest challenges is the fact that no one has been out selling the Fox Cities, and as such there’s very little in terms of an image of this area as a business location outside the region, and certainly outside the state of Wisconsin,” said Larry Burkhardt, executive vice president of the Fox Cities Regional Partnership, during the panel presentation. “So our objective was to create an awareness of this region as a job center with an audience that works with industrial clients every day.”

The consensus from the panel was: Speak up. Be prepared not only to highlight the benefits of the area, but to prove them.

The Fox Cities has an impressive industrial base in one of the nation’s strongest manufacturing states, but needs to help battle its perception of being part of a unionized state, said David Laszlo of Wadley Donovan Gutshaw Consulting of Bridgewater, N. J. His clients often ask him to confine his search territory to right-to-work states. So it’s important to tout the labor quality advantages such as low turnover and high production, using data and real-world examples, Laszlo said. “Show the data” was a sentiment echoed by other site selection experts who say they frequently hear community leaders claim they have the hardest-working people around.

“A lot of communities out there across the USA say they have the best work ethic, and the most productive workforce, and best skills in the United States,” said Bob Hess of Newmark Knight Grubb Frank. “So prove it.”

Keeping the strong manufacturing base healthy should be a number one priority, said Brad Lindquist, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank in the Chicago area. The area already is supportive of the manufacturing environment, with collaboration between companies, community leaders and area educators. More than one panelist noted the scope and offerings of Fox Valley Technical College as a standout asset.

Additionally, community assets such as the Performing Arts Center, the Fox River, events like the Mile of Music, the safety of the community and even its general appearance are all things that can be highlighted when trying to attract businesses to the region.

“You all know how great it is here, but you need to be on the radar for people like us, and you need to be in the market so other companies realize what an asset it is up here and what a tremendous opportunity it is to really leverage all the things in place,” Lindquist said.

Lindquist would like to see more development of new economy jobs – technology companies and more creative-class type employment – including for those who live where they choose and work remotely.

Panelists also suggested ensuring the marketing footprint includes Oshkosh and Green Bay and using the name Appleton instead of Fox Cities.

“(Fox Cities) doesn’t mean that much to people outside of this area,” Laszlo said. “If I tell a client they should consider the Fox Cities, the response I’m going to get is, ‘Fox Cities? Where’s that?’ and that’s not what you want.”

The partnership’s switch to the name “Appleton Regional Partnership” earlier this year didn’t stick, said Burkhardt, but the marketing strategy will continue to be reviewed. “It’s not as easy as picking a name out and going with it – you have to be able to coalesce around that marketing name as a region in order for it to be effective.”

Burkhardt said the panel’s visit spotlighted the need for the area to refine its marketing message by quantifying its advantages, such as a labor pool that comes from that Green Bay-to-Oshkosh region, as well as continuing to strengthen programs like “Ready to Build,” a Partnership program which helps prepare industrial sites for potential clients.

“This is an activity that requires ongoing discipline, ongoing attention to detail,” Burkhardt said.

“We have to look for those areas in which we excel and package that effectively to draw new business to the area.”