Chasing Business

I work for the chamber of commerce in a small, rural county in southwest Georgia. We need to attract manufacturers to our area, which offers inexhaustible water resources, cheap land, and ample labor. How can we advertise ourselves?

Michael D. Chase


Randolph County Chamber of Commerce

Cuthbert, Ga.

A small town trying to attract business faces stiff competition. According to Tom Blazer, past president of the Trident Chamber of Commerce and a member of South Carolina Economic Developers Association, there are 35,000 agencies -- public and semiprivate, state and local -- chasing just 1,000 relocations each year. Some knowledge of how smart companies make such decisions will help both Chase and readers who are considering a move.

Marc Abruzzese of Philadelphia Macaroni, in Philadelphia, spoke to lots of boosters when he started looking for a place to build the company's third plant, "and they all talked highly of their work force," he says. "But that was one of the least critical factors. We can train people, but we can't change access to raw materials or freight."

Abruzzese contacted the economic-development offices in a number of states. "All sent information on a wide range of topics -- not just economic, but social and cultural," he says. (He might have used State Executive Directory , published by Carroll Publishing, in Washington, D.C., which lists addresses and phone numbers of state-economic-development agencies.)

The development offices put him in touch with state offices that offer special incentives -- tax abatements, utility discount rates, discount financing, and job training. Abruzzese also asked utilities for sample billings for different sites. He took the information and worked up several scenarios. "The incentives come into play after you've picked a geographical area and have to choose between two sites. Workers' comp history, unemployment history, and education come into play then, too. And more than that, the state's attitude." Last summer Philadelphia Macaroni opened its new plant in Grand Forks, N. Dak., close to durum-wheat mills, two railroads, and several trucking routes.

"When a company is looking at you, it is not looking at anything good," says Blazer. "It is trying to cut you from its list. We have to tell people what we're doing as a community, a state, and a region to address any perceived problems." If Blazer were relocating a business, he would set up for himself "a number of screens to pass through, each one finer and finer. When I had a reasonable number of areas to focus on, I'd write to the economic-development authorities of those regions and get them to convince me that's where I needed to be."

Companies looking to relocate can also enlist the services of Data-Chase, in Portsmouth, N.H. (800-852-0258). DataChase will conduct research, collecting demographic information, surveying member agencies' industry interests, and interviewing for more specific data. For the average company, the simplest search costs about $250.

To find companies inclined to expand in an area, DataChase president Ron Landry suggests looking for those that have recently opened sales offices nearby. That might lead to a bigger presence. Dun & Bradstreet (212-593-6800) indexes that information. Break the relocations down by the regions companies came from. If you see a pattern, you know where to prospect.

You may be missing opportunities closer to home. "We make a big deal about announcing a relocation with 100 new jobs, and we don't think about a local company adding 100 jobs," Blazer says. "Focus on taking care of what's here now. That has more impact." n

-- Michael P. Cronin