Eastern Washington alliance created for economic development

In the competitive world of business recruitment, communities usually compete against each other to recruit new companies. Four economic development groups are taking a different approach by working together to collectively market a five-county region of Washington State.

Eastern Washington Economic Development Alliance members believe business and industry will find the region appealing. They also agree marketing the merits of the region provide companies with choices, a broader selection of land sites and cities that offer a variety of attributes.

The team formed in the fall of 2015 and consists of Adams County Development Council, Grant County Economic Development Council, Port of Pasco and Yakima County Development Association: New Vision.

Each agency is actively following economic development strategic plans in their respective counties. Much of their work is close to home, assisting existing businesses, lending critical support to startups and entrepreneurs or tackling workforce-training challenges.

Business and industry recruitment is just one facet of a comprehensive economic development effort. It’s often the most expensive, long-term exercise.

“Our main goals are to increase jobs and tax base in our communities,” said Gary Ballew, director of economic development and marketing for the Port of Pasco. “This means growing companies that are already here, but we also try to bring in new companies. These new companies not only bring in new investments, they provide different job opportunities.”

Alliance members represent diverse counties with one major common denominator — the region is an agriculture mecca. Grant and Yakima Counties lead the state in the value of production for both crop and animal agriculture. The result? A wealth of food processing in multiple clusters throughout the five-county region.

Manufacturing, technology, aerospace, distribution and logistics and research and development already have a strong and growing presence in the region.

“A cornerstone of our strategy is to improve the economic climate of the region to make it a top of mind location for food processing, manufacturing, and high-tech production and employment,” said Jonathan Smith, president of Yakima County Development Association.

“Working together cooperatively on recruitment efforts opens the door for collaboration in other areas that can result in a stronger Eastern Washington which will benefit all of us.”

Emily Braunwart, business recruitment manager for Grant County Economic Development Council, believes the Alliance better serves the companies considering the region. The group, she said, is able to offer a company more location options that improve the odds of landing a new employer.

“When a business wants to locate in an area, they don’t look at a map and see boundary lines. These companies are going to be looking at a larger area that will fit all their needs,” she said. “ To market an entire region such as Eastern Washington, we are able to open more doors than if we had tried to do this on our own.”

Companies conduct a substantial amount of internal research when planning the next expansion or relocation project. The analytical data helps determine, on paper, the best place to land. When company leaders meet with economic developers, they’re looking for specific nuances that set a specific location or region apart from all the other sites the company is considering.

“By marketing together, we can increase interest in our region by offering more opportunities for a company to land,” Ballew said. “How much would you like to shop at a store that sells only one brand of peanut butter? Maybe a lot if that’s your brand. But what if it isn’t? We end up offering a lot of different types of peanut butter, meaning we get more people into the store.”

To accomplish business recruitment, the Alliance has identified trade shows and industry specific expositions to attend. By pool resources and sharing costs, the group has retained Research Consultants International three times. The market research firm does the icebreaking. For a specific fee, the company secures and schedules meetings with companies specifically interested in Eastern Washington.

The Alliance first used RCI in September 2015 to identify leads at the Global Food Equipment and Technology Show. The team met with 10 companies and continues to work a pair of active leads.

“In terms of shear numbers, the Alliance has made direct contact with more than 70 companies since launching the collective effort,” said Stephen McFadden, of Adams County Economic Development director.

The Alliance was an exhibitor at the Northwest Food & Beverage Manufacturers Expo in Portland, Ore. in January. In February, the team conducted 23 company meetings at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif., and most recently it attended the Natural Products West Expo in Anaheim, Calif., producing 27 meetings.

“Recruiting a company is a pretty long-term process, usually five years or more,” Ballew said. “But it has to start somewhere and that starting point is to get a company interested in you. Using targeted leads from RVI, we have had really great success in getting companies looking at our regions and interested in getting more information and visiting. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and our Alliance shows have been the best I’ve seen.”

For Adams County, with a brand new business recruitment effort, the Alliance offers critical support.

“This focused, targeted business recruitment effort is a vital new venture for Adams County,” McFadden said. “As we implement the county’s economic development efforts, we benefit greatly from the Alliance. The collective experience of the members creates a dynamic sales team capable of promoting the Eastern Washington region. The collaborative effort allows all of us to become more aware of our neighbors while perfecting our regional message.”

Braunwart sees value in the Alliance effort, even when Grant County is unable to take part in a specific recruitment effort. Each Alliance member works to promote the entire region.

“This is such a huge perk of our Alliance,” Braunwart said. “This year, the GCEDC was short staffed, so we had to make a lot of hard decisions for our current staff’s time and be very careful about our budget. Because of this, we were not able to make it to all the shows we would have liked to. But since we have the Alliance, we have been able to sleep easy knowing that our partners are still getting our story out there.”

The Alliance, via targeted outreach, effectively combats a common myth.

“While Seattle gets a lot of attention, you will find bright, hard-working people throughout the state and definitely here in Eastern Washington,” Ballew said.

Gaining an audience with more companies improves the odds. The Alliance members benefit when they can double or triple the amount of outreach achieved in a given year. For every member of the team, the ultimate goal is to land a brand new employer.

“These efforts make sure we communicate the benefits of the region and it allows us to have more conversations than any of us could individually,” Smith said. “We don’t pretend to be the perfect business location for all companies. Eastern Washington has very unique and specific attribute that give it a competitive advantage for certain industries. These are the businesses we are seeking to connect with, so we can show them how they can be successful here.”

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