Upstate Economic Development ‘Rewrites Norms’

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The Upstate SC Alliance and the Economic Futures Group of the Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce were named among a dozen groups in Site Selection Magazine’s annual Best to Invest list. The honorees were noted for having inventive approaches to economic development.

The magazine is published by Conway Data, a business intelligence company specializing in economic development. Among other winners were the Atlanta, Austin and Baton Rouge chambers of commerce, and economic development organizations in Pittsburgh and Detroit.

Winners were judged on jobs, capital investment, creativity of economic development strategy and breakthrough deals, among other criteria.

The recent BMW expansion was noted as an important deal among more than $10 billion in capital investments and 31,000 jobs since 2005.

Carter Smith, executive vice president of the Spartanburg Chamber, said the Upstate is on the front end of economic development organizations focusing on employment as much as the companies they aim to grow and court. Companies are asking for that.

Smith said in the 2012 fiscal year, 14 projects were committed for both new and expanding companies. As a result, Spartanburg County saw more than $1 billion and 11,000 jobs.

“I think that you’re going to see a lot more of the economic development agencies and communities centering around workforce development initiatives,” Smith said. “In the past it’s been, ‘Do you have the site that works or do you have the building that works?’ I think one of the more crucial components will be, ‘Do you have the workforce?’”

Just three years ago the International Economic Development Council based in Washington, D.C., reported that relatively little attention was being paid to job creation from the perspective of economic development practitioners. Business trends such as automation of jobs, global leadership and flat wages have quickly changed economic development in recent years.

“In response to these trends, the formerly well-defined and relatively straightforward profession of economic development has become more complex and unpredictable,” the study said.

Clay Andrews, director of investor and public relations at the Upstate SC Alliance, said year-end numbers were higher than what had been reported to Site Selection to win the award. He cited $2.28 billion of announced investment and 4,117 jobs.

Andrews said the recent hiring of a research analyst was also cited as setting the Upstate SC Alliance apart. Elizabeth Feather joined the staff in 2011 and conducts custom research for site consultants, the county economic developers and investors.

“Our information was months old rather than years old,” Andrews said.

A spate of hiring over the past 18 months included other specialists in target areas such as advanced materials or Chinese companies. Creating task forces for each targeted industry, along with the specialized research, brought Site Selection’s attention, Andrews said.

Documentation was another important criterion for the award. Andrews said the Upstate SC Alliance was able to show improved progress from previous years.

“Our job is to get companies here,” Andrews said. “The local economic developer is responsible for landing the deal. So we measure ourselves based on presentations and getting companies to visit.”

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