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You’ve Done Everything Right. Then….

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

You’ve done everything right. Your private sector and community stakeholders are at the table. You have regional alignment and cooperation. Your proposal was first class. Maybe, as Rob Radcliff said in RDG’s last blog, you even made a point of going outside your comfort zone. How can you fail? Then you do.

This scenario is certainly not an uncommon occurrence in the economic development world. One of the latest examples is the Toyota-Mazda plant that was recently announced. You probably thought I was going to say Amazon HQ2, didn’t you?  We will get to that.

First off, congratulations to Alabama and Huntsville! They seem to have figured out the secret sauce for luring auto manufacturers into the state. But what about Toyota’s other option, which was the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina? Let me share their story.

The Triad, comprised of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Highpoint, was hit hard by unemployment when the economy shifted away from tobacco, textile and low skilled manufacturing. I remember that the stat was that the region lost as many jobs as the number of people employed in downtown Charlotte. Reeling, the major cities began to better organize their economic development efforts individually. That led, after a few years, to greater outreach and cooperation between the major cities to align strategies, cooperate on projects, and eliminate duplication of efforts.

The most significant goal of this work was to create at least one megasite in the Triad to woo a major employer, with an emphasis on an auto manufacturer. It was a herculean effort, that had many ups and downs, but ultimately success was realized.  The Piedmont Triad had their 1,900 acre megasite, and the perfect project presented itself…the new Toyota-Mazda plant.

Confidence was high! This was the employer that would give the region the nudge it had been waiting for, that would allow it to finally shake off remnants of those massive job losses. Then on Tuesday, January 9, they learned that the plant was headed to Alabama.

Now what? Time will tell. But, local media coverage suggests that economic development, business and community leaders are already convening and dissecting the project with an eye towards using this near miss as a stepping stone for future success. Maintaining this high level of collaboration appears to be priority one!  That is why I am confident they will realize success of some sort in the not too distant future.

That brings us to Amazon HQ2. There are now 218 communities that submitted a bid for Amazon’s HQ2 that did not make the first cut. Many of these communities developed proposals knowing that winning HQ2 was a long shot. But, in taking on this project, regions around the country, like Tampa-St Petersburg, Charlotte, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Buffalo-Rochester, etc., witnessed unprecedented levels of conversation about regional strengths and weaknesses. As leaders, it is imperative that we continue to engage the community and not allow our partners to return to their respective corners. The lasting residual of this exercise needs to be that we have all just proven that we can set aside differences of opinion and work together to tackle and achieve common goals. Use the Amazon HQ2 project as a stepping stone for collaboratively developing big hairy audacious goals for your community in an effort to foster future regional success.  Fight like hell to keep these conversations going, and good things are sure to happen.

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