Miranda-Freer column: An Inside Look at how ALCOM Chose Missoula

By now many of you have heard the news: ALCOM LLC, a fast-growing manufacturing company based in Maine, has chosen the former Stimson Lumber mill in Bonner as the home for its first expansion facility. The company, which makes aluminum recreational and utility trailers, signed a lease on November 14, with plans to be operational in early 2013.

Any businessperson recognizes that is an aggressive timetable. But this is an aggressive company: Founded in 2006, ALCOM has seen average annual revenue growth of more than 50 percent. ALCOM plans to initially hire about 60 workers in our community, with an aim to quickly expand its payroll to 200.

As the person who fielded ALCOM’s first call to Missoula, I think it is instructive about the work we do at Missoula Economic Partnership to look back on the process that ultimately brought the company here.

It was around 3 p.m. on a Friday, just two months ago, when I first spoke with ALCOM Vice President and Co-founder Tom Sturtevant. In a brief conversation, he explained a bit about his company and its need for a facility to serve western U.S. and Canadian customers.

I surmised something else about Tom from that phone call. It’s not uncommon for site selectors to reach out to communities late in the day Friday as a subtle test.

Would someone answer his call? Would we be ready with immediate responses and the right connections to help him?

A few minutes before 5 p.m. that day, I sent Tom his initial packet of information, including profiles of industrial sites, wage and workforce data for welders and other manufacturing workers from Missoula Job Service, feedback from a local trucking company on the best route and travel time to ALCOM’s primary Canadian customer, an overview of local incentives and capital programs, and more.

Over the next few days, we exchanged a flurry of emails and telephone calls, quickly bringing company President Trapper Clark and the owners of the Bonner mill site into the conversation.

On October 15, Trapper and ALCOM’s marketing director, Logan Feeney, flew into town for a whirlwind two days. In addition to spending time on site, we arranged for them to meet with elected officials as well as representatives from local supply companies, other manufacturers, service providers, regulatory agencies and others.

Not surprisingly, they loved our city in the mountains. More importantly, they felt there was an excellent business case for ALCOM here in Missoula. They were hooked.

Still, we knew that businesses considering a relocation or expansion often take a year or more to make a final decision.

ALCOM was a welcome exception to that rule. A few site improvements and a lease needed to be negotiated. But thanks to the can-do attitude of Steve Nelson and Mike Boehme, owners of Bonner Property Development, those issues were resolved quickly and ALCOM could move forward with its plans.

The result is great news for our local economy and workers. And I am confident in saying that this will not be the last time a new company comes to town. As of this writing, Missoula Economic Partnership has hosted more than a dozen in-person visits by company representatives considering a move or expansion here. Of those, more than half tell us that Missoula is still on their short-list.

We know that the one of the most fruitful strategies of economic development is to help grow the businesses that have already chosen our community. That is where the Partnership focuses most of its effort and resources.

Still, we make sure we are prepared and responsive when a new company comes calling — even if that call comes late on a Friday afternoon. By having the information that incoming companies want at our fingertips, we can help speed the decision-making process.

Just as importantly, we demonstrate that our community is ready to do business.

This column by Brigitta Miranda-Freer, former Business Development Director of Missoula Economic Partnership, originally appeared in the November 25, 2012 edition of the Missoulian’s Western Montana InBusiness.



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