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BBA Economic Digest

Worse Than Bad

It was or rather is ostensibly an economic development website for a county in Kentucky, which is a good state for economic development.

But this particular website, which proclaims that the county is "open for business," (I've never heard that one before.) provides zero information on workforce and vocational education/training. There is nothing on the website about project news -- existing industry expanding or new companies establishing operations.

What it did feature, I kid you not, are "upcoming events," which included the musical "The Music Man Jr." and two movies -- "Avengers" and "Guardians of the Galaxy." Not surprisingly, the person who heads economic development for this organization is not on LinkedIn.

Look, I don't build economic development websites and I never will, but I know what I'm looking for, and I frequently give economic developers a critique of theirs at no charge. Let me know if that might interest you.

I'll be gentle. Honest.

Long Live the Hogs

Most economic developers learn pretty quickly that they are involved in a rather thankless profession. They don’t do what they do -- trying to build up the economy of their community -- to seek credit. Rather, they do it to make a difference.

That’s one reason why I love economic developers.

Short story: I was once part of a small team that landed a big automotive project. There was a big celebratory announcement that resulted in elected officials taking to a stage and broadly hinting that they were responsible for winning the project.

There was no mention of the economic developers who worked tirelessly on the project for months. We were standing in the back of the audience, listening to all the bloviating, clapping like everyone else, and knowing what we had accomplished. We didn’t need the credit nor did we expect it.

Afterwards, we may have met at a nearby bar for beers to celebrate. I can neither confirm nor deny that. Ok, we did.

Nobody Remembers

Will Williams, president of the Economic Development Partnership in Aiken, S.C., likens economic developers to offensive linemen in football. "Nobody remembers our name."

But sometimes the unsung heroes who fight it out in the trenches do get their due. The Hogs were the offensive line of the Washington Redskins of the National Football League during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Renowned for their ability to control the line of scrimmage, the Hogs helped the Redskins win three Super Bowl championships (XVII, XXII and XXVI) under head coach Joe Gibbs.

Economic developers fight daily to control the lines of scrimmage in their communities. They get down and dirty and banged up in the process. Without them, there would be no celebrations, no politicians claiming the big wins.

In that sense, economic developers truly are the Hogs. Long live the Hogs.

We Call It "Strategery"

As an economic development consultant, I’d like to think that I know my stuff. But it would be presumptuous, if not ludicrous of me to think that I’m some all-knowing guru. Far from it.

Hell, I'm still learning, because economic development is so hugely all encompassing. For that very reason, I like to introduce economic developers to one another, so that they can share experiences and knowledge with each other.

I recently completed a SWOT analysis for a community (our BBA Community Assessment/Asset Mapping) and concluded that its entrepreneurial support system was sorely lacking. (Something that I see frequently.)

After I had completed my report, which the local economic developer said provided great value, I introduced him online to another economic developer, an old friend, in another state who has crafted a very good business startup program. I did so because I continue to see the community where I worked as my client and will follow up to make sure that we can get certain things done.

As a result, the economic developer who I did the work for will soon be coming to Dallas, where I’m based, and we’ll discuss at length how to convert recommendations from my report into practical solutions that work. Here in Texas, we call that "strategery."

The way I see it, I owe him that.

Got Shrimp?

Most of the time, I won't respond to these emails, because I get them so frequently. I've concluded that doing so is mostly a waste of time and effort. (Which is precisely why I'm contradicting myself and writing about it here.)

It happened yet again: An economic development organization (really a chamber) invited me to attend a 2 1/2-hour open house, and, get this, they're more than 1,000 miles away from me.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling playful, I'll answer: "Sure, I'll come. You pay my travel expenses from Dallas."

Of course, the message was never intended for me or that. They want their community stakeholders to come, but they didn't sort their contact database. Consequently, I got invited.

I think of this as a rookie mistake, and yet this errant email came from an ED organization based in an NFL city. You would think that they would know better.

Now I wonder if they'll have shrimp.

Update: Received a message from the ED group: "We hear this loud and clear from you ... This is a great reminder for us to clean up our email lists, which we are now doing!"

That's a great response. They're taking responsibility and acting accordingly. It's quite unlike one I got from a rather defensive economic developer under a similar scenario -- "Well, we thought you might be in the neighborhood." Really?

But, but, but: Don't remove me from all your email lists, just the ones designed for local stakeholders. I do want to hear from you.

Just Imagine

Many Europeans take the entire month of August off. Yes, the entire month. So why is it difficult for Americans to take even the little vacation time they receive?

A recent piece in The Economist states that workers in the U.S. are doing it all wrong by going on short holidays, which can add even more stress, or taking none at all. Instead, it's important for employees to recharge their batteries for lengthier periods.

Similarly, it's beneficial for companies to have a predictable holiday month during which junior employees can head to the beach and managers can take stock of things, says the report.

The idea of taking an entire month off is appealing, but I cannot imagine doing it at this point. One of my BBA team members does go to Hawaii for three weeks every Spring and multiple other vacation spots at other times of the year.

Still, I refuse to hate him.

The Last Domino to Fall?

At one time, all the Japanese carmakers had their North American headquarters in California.

That changed in 2006 when Nissan moved its U.S. headquarters from Torrance to Franklin, Tenn., about 15 miles southwest of Nashville.

And then Toyota relocated its North American headquarters to Plano, Texas, north of Dallas, in 2017. Just last week, Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc. said it would move its headquarters from Cypress, Calif., to Franklin.

So that leaves Honda sitting by its lonesome in Torrance, the same town that Toyota left for Plano's $3 billion Legacy West development.

I mentioned this to the top brass at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation last month. I suggested they should be making respectful overtures to Honda, as it is only logical that the company will one day move east to be closer to its manufacturing operations, which are all east of the Mississippi River.

I would tell the same to state economic developers in other states, although realistically, Honda would likely limit its search to a relatively small number of cities. Topping my educated guess list would be Dallas and Atlanta.

Other cities that could conceivably be in the mix: Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Birmingham, Charlotte and Nashville.

Honda began manufacturing in the U.S. in 1979 when it opened its first plant in Marysville, Ohio. Today, the company operates 12 manufacturing plants in the U.S in six states -- Ohio, Alabama, Indiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.

It is important to note that Honda has not confirmed that it is considering moving its North American headquarters. This is all pure speculation of my part. But if you think about it, it only makes sense.

Record Growth, Record Building

Lots of new jobs means lots of new apartments in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.

As of June, the DFW had created 120,000 new jobs during the previous 12 months. Only New York with a 123,800 employment gain has seen more new jobs in the past year, writes Steve Brown with the Dallas Morning News.

Record employment growth and population gains has meant an apartment development boom, with the DFW being the country's top market for new apartments. Developers expect to add 19,632 new apartments in the DFW this year, and another 24,309 rental units are scheduled for completion next year, according to a new report by RealPage

"There's lots more apartment product on the way in North Texas than in any other market across the country," RealPage chief economist Greg Willett said. During the past 12 months developers have finished almost 285,000 apartments nationwide, with another 359,000 rental units set for completion next year, RealPage forecasts.

Airbus Expands Production in Mobile

Great news for Alabama, a state where I used to work in economic development. Europe’s Airbus is pushing its growth in the U.S. with the start of production in Alabama for its A220 airplane.

The first U.S.-built A220 will not be finished and delivered until well into next year, but the start of production is a major milestone in the Boeing competitor’s push to leverage its Alabama base to grow business.

With a new assembly line under construction, the A220 will add 400 jobs to Airbus’ plant in Mobile and eventually push employment there to more than 1,500 workers. With the U.S. unemployment rate near a 50-year low, finding those workers has been a challenge.

“The labor market is tight, so what we have done is expanded our recruiting efforts across the U.S.,” said Jeff Knittel, CEO of Airbus of America. “The good news is, in the Alabama area, the Florida area, reaching over even into Texas, there is a substantial number of high-quality employees available.”

Knittel's quote is particularly noteworthy because the CEO is stating that his company will reaching out regionally for future workers. Economic developers should always keep this in mind -- that your workforce is typically not limited to the political jurisdiction where you work. That's hugely important.

A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

Death by PowerPoint. Kind of a funny phrase, because there's a lot of truth to it.

How many times have you endured a presentation in which the speaker is literally reading the text on the slides? Or you can't even read the text if you wanted to? (And you probably didn't.)

In my last presentation, I put no words on my slides. Just images, which served as prompts to my talk. I didn't even refer to my notes, which was liberating.

That's the way I'm going to handle it in the future based on the feedback that I received after the fact. From now on, the images (and me) will tell the story.

What We're Reading

Uber's Dallas office could bring 3,000 jobs downtown. Dallas Morning News

Walgreens will close 200 stores in the U.S. CNBC

FCC will require telecoms to provide more detailed data about broadband availability. Axios

Just being born in a big city has a positive effect on later-life wages, new research finds. CityLab

Want to Stop Gulls From Stealing Your Food? Stare Them Down. New York Times

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