PROSPECTS – A glimpse into the processPublished 5:16pm Saturday, October 26, 2013
by Amanda Jarratt
The practice of economic development is a highly competitive and high stakes arena. To use a baseball analogy, it’s one in which a community may not get more than one chance at bat. While the swing may not produce a home run, it had better be a base hit.
In our efforts to keep you informed of what the Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. is doing, we’ll continue to submit columns to The Tidewater News.
Our goal is to shed more light on how FSEDI is working collaboratively for the benefit of our regional community. We want bring you into the economic development conversation, get your engagement, and increase your awareness and possible involvement.
So today’s economic development update is on the area of prospect management. It’s just one step in the economic development process, but an important one. How does the prospect management process really work? Who’s involved in the process? Most importantly, what are prospects looking for?
First, let’s start with: What’s a prospect? It’s any potential business, industrial or client organization interested in starting an enterprise in our region, which has been qualified as fitting certain criteria. This may include: fitting the target market, having buying authority and being a key decision maker. Once qualification is ascertained and met, that business prospect is then converted into a “prospect” (a potential customer).
We have a laundry list of potential businesses that we consistently market to. Our area is primed for those in light and heavy manufacturing, food processing, and port related uses. It’s also a great choice for those interested in the logging industry due to our abundant natural resources.
We learn about prospects much the same way they learn about the Franklin-Southampton community. National site selection consultants are provided information on our area through marketing missions or they will contact the FSEDI office directly regarding specific projects. In many cases, the prospect will contact one of our partner economic development organizations – the Virginia Economic Partnership, the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, The Ports of Virginia, or in some cases a contact from FSEDI to the prospect.
What are prospects generally looking for?
When potential business and/or industrial prospects come to our region, they have generally already done their homework. Most likely they have researched our community on the Internet. They read the local newspapers and have a sense of the “atmosphere” in our community. They may have even done undercover site visits to the area. (So being a great community ALL OF THE TIME is our goal. We never know when someone may be shopping.)
For a prospect visit, we have to anticipate what the prospective business wants, and how, (or if) we can provide it. If, for example, there are environmental issues, we have to have an engineer on hand to provide expert answers to their questions, since they will have professional consultants helping them and raising potential issues. Experts from electric, natural gas, water and sewer are typically on hand to answer any potential questions that may arise during our first contact with a prospect.
In general, a short list of expected priority items will include:
Review of available land resources…available sites
Review of existent infrastructure (water, sewer, gas, etc.)
Examination of Transportation (rail, highway, vehicle, etc.)
What is the state of the Labor/Workforce (skilled labor pool)
How is the education system…how are your schools
Quality of Life (what qualities set the community apart)
What are other amenities the community offers (recreation, cultural, healthcare, etc.)
Who’s involved in prospect visits?
A major key to success is credibility and professionalism. Our goal is to convince the prospects and their consultants that we have the best place they could possibly want and that we, FSEDI and our local governments, can efficiently and cordially provide all of the services they will need. If we are successful, we make the short list of prospects and hope they will return for a more intensive examination of our site and community.
We have many assets that we want to show off…including our people and Paul D. Camp Community College’s extraordinary Workforce Development Center, which has a proven record of success. We also have great proximity to the ports and the major transportation routes in and out (58, 460, 95 & 85). We are perfectly positioned geographically to take advantage of port related activity, and a host of other terrific amenities…I’ll share insights on that area in my next column!
However, the key advice that we follow for the prospect visits is as follows:
Keep It Brief
Be prepared with all the facts
Be expert at the activities and opportunities in our region
Be prepared to provide valuable Incentives
Don’t overstate the situation
If we do our jobs and the prospect likes what they hear and see, a second visit will be longer and more intensive. It will likely include a formal presentation by FSEDI and include appropriate City or County officials.
But a word to the wise: Months can elapse between the initial contact and a follow up visit. The prospect will have more questions and we will have to provide clear and factual answers. If we are successful at this stage, we can expect more engineers, architects, and other experts from the prospect, and we are close to a home run!
As shared previously, you’ll be hearing from me and other members of the FSEDI Board on other aspects of the goal of gaining, retaining, and growing our business base in the Franklin-Southampton region.