You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to be there.
As economic developers, we are used to traveling – a lot. That can mean an overnight visit to Atlanta to meet with site consultants, but there are also transoceanic journeys like the 10 days I spent last year speaking with business, governmental and academic leaders across Thailand.
Effective promotion of the Research Triangle Region is not just a matter of talking. Regional economic developers, like our counterparts at the local and state levels, need to know our customers and their needs. To do this right, we have to interact with corporate decision-makers at eye level. It means meeting them on their own turf or in an environment – Pinehurst, for example – that underscores the region’s unique quality of life.
Location decisions are complex. Some of the site selection choices made by CEOs are made only once in a career. (And for those who choose unwisely, the experience can be a career-ender.) Few things add credibility to the economic development process as visible support from satisfied customers. Private firms that support the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP) boost the credibility of the region’s pro-business message and give site seekers the confidence they need to pull the trigger on a new location here.
Private-sector interests, in fact, pioneered economic development marketing as we know it in the South. A century ago, railroads were eager to recruit industrial operations along adjacent stretches of newly built track. As early as the 1920s, utility companies lured Northern manufacturers south by highlighting inexpensive land and lower operating costs. Only later did state governments, led by Mississippi in 1936, begin forming industry recruitment programs.
Much has changed over the decades in how firms select new locations. But the process of economic development remains a twin-piston engine that utilizes significant amounts of time, attention, creativity and financial resources from governments as well as the private sector. RTRP – like each of North Carolina’s regional economic development partnerships – pools funds from public and private investors to take the region’s case directly and purposefully to our clients around the world.
Fortunately for us, most global business leaders already know the Research Triangle Region is here. But only when they see us in the flesh and look us in the eye do they fully understand how serious we are about bringing them and their companies here.
There are many ways to tell our story, but we believe that one of the most important is face to face. As I said in the beginning you can pretend to care but you can’t pretend to be there.