Grunke column: Missoula makes a mark with professional site selectors

About a month ago, John Kappes, Mayor Engen and I attended the Site Selectors Guild conference in Orlando, Florida. This conference gathered together top site selectors and economic development professionals from around the country. It also offered a strong agenda of presentations on what site selectors look for in communities, trends in business relocation, growing business/industry sectors and more.

As you likely know, site selection is a profession. Companies large and small pay these professionals to help them conduct location searches, to negotiate incentives and to generally assist with expansion and relocation processes. If you’re a community looking to attract economic development, it’s vital to understand site selectors’ processes and be on their radar. The Missoula Economic Partnership — a new private-public partnership whose purpose is to harness all of Missoula’s resources to promote sustainable economic development — took this seriously.

Our plan for accomplishing that began with researching professional site selectors. We reviewed bios, areas of specialty, articles published and more. Ultimately, we targeted site selectors specializing in biosciences, innovative technologies, advanced manufacturing, back office/professional services, forest products and renewable energy. We focused on these sectors because they dovetail with successful business clusters right here in Missoula.

Over the course of two days in Orlando we met with each of our targeted site selectors — and it was eye opening for both sides.

First, Montana (let alone Missoula) hadn’t been on their radar screens. They knew little about Montana, what it has to offer or why anyone might want to live and work here. Throughout our discussions, we shed light on the quality of the area’s talented workforce, our entrepreneurial leadership, the availability of public officials and the incredible lifestyle we all enjoy. And with that, Missoula became a blip.

We highlighted some of the organizations and resources in place here to help startups and existing businesses grow — the tech transfer program at The University of Montana, the workforce development being done by the Missoula Job Service, funding from groups like the Montana Community Development Corporation and Big Sky Trust Fund, economic gardening programs with BitterRoot Economic Development District, the Partnership’s business retention and expansion program and more. The quality of these resources and the kind of work they’re doing made our blip grow brighter.

Then, we shared specific success stories in Missoula’s targeted business clusters. We talked about GT Advanced Technology, TerraEchos, Blue Marble Biomaterials, Advanced Technology Group’s Missoula Solutions Center, CM Manufacturing and others who are succeeding in part because of their choice to be in Missoula. The blip became a steady glow.

The site selectors, in turn, answered our questions. What’s most important to the companies they represent? How vital are incentives in the decision process? Do companies tend to put geography or talent first? What kinds of logistical assistance can communities offer up?

The results? We have insight, contacts and ongoing conversations we didn’t have five weeks ago. We are not only on the radar — we’re being watched. Now, we simply need to perform by helping grow Missoula’s business clusters and highlight the successes of our town, businesses and entrepreneurs.

This column by James Grunke, CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership, originally appeared in the February 26, 2012 edition of the Missoulian’s Western Montana InBusiness.


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