By Gary Ballew, CEcD, VP of Economic Development
Picture a group of business and local officials cutting the ribbon on a new manufacturing facility or office. It’s probably pretty easy because you have seen the picture in the papers or on the evening news. In economic development, this is what we call Recruiting, and it is what most people think of when they think of economic development.
Recruiting is an important part of a community’s economic development strategy. Specifically, when those strategies target emerging industries and industries that pay higher wages per skill level. GSI focuses on Advanced Manufacturing, Life Sciences, and Technology. Three industry sectors where our community has advantages, yet where we still have room to grow.
We can all picture the end of the recruiting pipeline, with its colorful ribbon or gold-painted shovels, but what about the beginning of the pipeline? Well, that’s not near as photogenic and it’s a slog and a numbers game. Recruiting has a lot of attrition, so for every 1000 companies your message reaches about 100 will want to talk to you, 10 will make a site visit, and one will locate in your community. Moreover, on average, it will take about five years from that first conversation to the facility ribbon cutting.
GSI’s recruiting activities, along with everyone else’s, took a hiatus during COVID. No trade shows, no sales missions, and no site visits. Post-COVID there was a rapid expansion of activity. Starting in the summer of 2021 we got back into the game, hesitantly as we worked around surges, vaccination requirements, masking, and travel restrictions.
We are now in full swing and coming off of a recent sales mission to Seattle focused on life science companies. Prior to a sales mission, we place digital ads in the metro area targeted at key industries. We use a firm that connects with thousands of businesses in that area and identifies companies who are 1) seeking to expand and 2) interested in expanding in our region (recruiting is rarely a relocation). We set aside a week to go to that metro area and meet with those businesses.
The Seattle sales mission went really well. The life science companies we met with must compete with big tech (like Amazon) for space and talent. Spokane is attractive with a regional health care system, two medical schools, colleges and universities producing talent, and our new Evergreen Bioscience Innovation Cluster. You may think Spokane is an obvious choice and that we wouldn’t need to have the sales mission, but that’s not the case.
We met with a company that had someone from Spokane on their board as well as a supplier in Spokane. While they were interested in expanding in Eastern Washington they were focused on Grant County because of all the big news regarding battery manufacturing and aerospace. They were not considering us, though they are now. That’s why these personal connections are important.
2023 looks to be a full year with more sales missions and trade shows promoting our region for companies to make investments and create jobs. While recruiting is not the majority of our economic development efforts, it is an important part of our overall economic development strategy.