By Michael Trotter, founder, Bearing Resources Inc.
Occasionally, you may be made aware of a particular company that’s investigating this area for a new location. In economic development, most typically a code name is assigned to the company’s project, and early on, it might not even be known who the actual business is. Only a handful of people may know the identity of who’s inquiring.
A company always has its reasons for wanting to keep its name from becoming widely known. It is NOT due to local and state officials simply wanting to keep something a secret. Because most projects prefer to remain confidential, typically, people that work in the economic development industry err on the safe side and treat all projects as though they’re confidential.
Anyone engaged in an economic development project MUST continually maintain confidentiality. A business may not want it known that it’s even looking around. There are numerous reasons for this, all of which are legitimate. As just one example, the company may want confidentiality because otherwise, a labor union that exists at one of its locations could create major problems for the company. South Carolina is a right-to-work state and, as such, is frequently very attractive to businesses wanting to locate in a nonunion environment.
As an example of the seriousness of maintaining confidentiality, if it is ever breached, the company may eliminate the area at fault, or in extreme cases, may eliminate the project completely. Therefore, maintaining confidentiality is paramount.
Be assured, there isn’t a genie behind the curtain pulling the strings.
Another interesting characteristic of the economic development industry is that the people who work within the business may be friends one minute and competitors the next. For example, an economic development person in County A might be good friends, and collaborate on activities unrelated to projects, with an economic development person in County B. However, when both counties are vying for the same project, they’re always friendly and professional competitors, but they certainly don’t share information and secrets. This camaraderie is great for the state and is very refreshing and rare in today’s business environment.
One example of how counties work together could be that both locations belong to the same regional alliance. Regions are areas of a state that are typically made up of five to 10 counties. In this part of South Carolina, the regional organization is the Upstate Alliance, which is made up of 10 counties. In South Carolina, regions are referred to as “alliances,” and in North Carolina as “partnerships,” but they’re essentially the same thing.
Approaching economic development from a regional perspective is very pragmatic and viable. Early on in a project, many times, a company may be interested in “locating a new facility in the Southeast.” It certainly isn’t yet at the detail level to decide on a specific town or county. Regional alliances are able to market the entire area of a state, and once a company is focused on an area, it can then become more specific about a particular location. Compared with each individual county conducting its own campaign, it’s a much better bang for the buck.
A similar philosophy exists within the Department of Commerce, the organization in Columbia that’s primarily responsible for economic development in South Carolina. First and foremost, its mission is to attract business to the state. It does not steer a project to any particular location and doesn’t play favorites. It simply wants to have companies come to South Carolina. It’s up to the company where it actually locates, not the state Department of Commerce.
So the next time you perceive the economic development community is simply being coy, remember there is a reason! Also, you can be proud that your state, region, and county are doing everything they can to win a project.
Michael Trotter is the founder of Bearing Resources Inc. Prior to founding Bearing, Michael enjoyed a 22-year career at Duke Energy, which included a managerial role within Duke Energy’s Economic Development organization, where he was responsible for economic development efforts in North Carolina’s Charlotte area, the Triad, and the Research Triangle.