FEATURE STORY: 2012 Economic Development Awards

By Jack Rogers
From the March/April 2012 issue

Every year, Business Facilities selects the highest-impact projects and honors the agencies that brought them to fruition with our Economic Development Deal of the Year Awards. We also choose our State of the Year. Our mid-year double issue is where we unveil our annual State, Metro and International rankings.

We always do our best to make our awards and rankings the most comprehensive and credible in the community we serve, and it is in that spirit that we introduce our first annual Economic Development Awards, which will honor the agencies and organizations that have established and consistently executed the best practices in our industry, bringing measurable success in targeted economic development to the locations they represent.

We have created more than a dozen new awards categories, including overall excellence in economic development, best practices awards that cite achievements in specialized programs like workforce training and incentives, and awards for marketing excellence in the use of new media (including social networks and video).

New Standard of Excellence
The finalists for our new overall Economic Development Excellence awards were asked to prepare a detailed submission that summarized the most-productive project development in their locations and gave our judges an overview of the economic development strategy they have deployed to ensure sustained long-term growth. The information provided to the judges included the top projects (initiated since the beginning of 2011), both in terms of capital investment and job creation. These projects included new facilities, expansions, relocations or corporate headquarters.

In their strategic narratives, finalists identified the growth sectors they are targeting and described the specialized tools being deployed to achieve growth in these sectors. We encouraged them to specify their approach to workforce training, specialized incentives and the support they provide to the development of start-ups, small businesses and other entrepreneurial initiatives. Our judges assessed the diversity and scope of the agency’s overall economic development program (in terms of the expansion of existing industries as well as the attraction of new ventures).

Our new Achievement Awards throw the spotlight on agencies and organizations that have established the best practices in their specified category. In some cases, the selections were obvious, while in others—particularly in our evaluation of the universe of targeted incentives—we had to put on an extra pot of coffee while we winnowed the field.

So, without further ado, here are the winners of our first annual Economic Development Awards.

Population Greater Than 500k
Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce
Our judges had a tough time selecting a winner from among the finalists for our first annual Economic Development Excellence Award (Population Greater Than 500k). There were many worthy contenders, but when all factors were considered one location emerged as the consensus choice: the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

The cosmopolitan capital of the Lone Star State has consistently impressed us with its diversity of industry, superior system of higher education, top-flight skilled workforce and vibrant culture. The tremendous economic vitality the Greater Austin area has experienced in recent years is a testament to the best practices established by its first-class economic development organization.

The numbers don’t lie, and they are outstanding: In 2011, 51 businesses expanded operations in Austin while 35 new companies chose to relocate to the Texas city from other parts of the country. These activities created more than 8,000 new jobs in Austin, bringing in more than $495 million in new wages and an overall positive economic impact for the region of $1.9 billion.

The Austin Chamber leads a regional five-county strategy for job creation through recruitment and expansion in Central Texas. Working collaboratively with regional partners, the Chamber aggressively promotes the area as a cost-competitive location for targeted industry segments, including clean energy, creative media, convergence technologies, life sciences and corporate/ professional operations. The Chamber also has worked to establish new-growth beachheads in automotive technologies and wireless/mobile industries, while defending and expanding Austin’s established position as one of the nation’s leading semiconductor hubs.

The Austin Chamber has embraced education as a lynchpin to sustainable economic development. Its innovative approach to education reform, emphasizing tracking measurable, outcomes-based performance, already has blown past its original 2010 goal of increasing Austin’s college enrollment by 20,000 students.

The field of contenders for our top Excellence Award was so rich, that we selected not one, but two honorable mentions: Greater New Orleans Inc. and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.

In the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, many people still think of New Orleans as a wounded city on the mend. The fact is, the Crescent City is now a shining model of diverse, growth-oriented success. 2011 was a remarkable year for Greater New Orleans, capped by being named the fastest improving economy in the United States by The Wall Street Journal.

Among the big ticket projects announced in 2011 in New Orleans were NASA’s manufacturing facility for its new Space Launch System (expected to employ 500), digital media player Gameloft’s second North American studio (bringing 150 jobs) and the expansion of Australian steel manufacturer Bradken’s foundry, an $18-million investment creating up to 400 new jobs.

Greater New Orleans, Inc. (GNO) takes a bifurcated approach to economic development, focusing on business development (business retention, expansion and attraction) and product development (policy reform, workforce development, regional brand management and access to capital for entrepreneurs.

The Greater OKC Chamber has been a job-creating juggernaut in recent months, with its top 10 projects notching more than $1 billion in capital investment, including the expansions of fabricated metal product manufacturer W&W Steel Co. and oil-and-gas-extraction specialists Helmerich and Payne, and the much-heralded relocation from Wichita of Boeing’s architectural, engineering and related services, which brought up to 900 jobs to OKC.

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber serves as the one-stop manager of economic development for the Oklahoma City region. The Chamber’s Economic Development Division focuses on business retention and expansion (BRE) activities; recruitment of new companies and investment; research, demographic and economic modeling; and entrepreneurial development. In addition, the education and workforce division, marketing division and government relations division all support the overall economic development mission and goals.

Greater OKC’s research department is the primary source for business and economic intelligence for the 10-county partnership region, the Chamber members and the economic development team, delivering services including detailed demographic analyses, economic impacts of individual and aggregate projects, market and employer profiles and more. The research department produces a number of publications throughout the year including various industry studies, a quarterly cost of living index and an annual economic forecast.

The OKC Chamber also takes the lead for business recruitment for the city, county and 10-county Regional Partnership. If a company has workforce training needs, Oklahoma’s CareerTech System and Training for Industry Program (TIP) are available. The TIP program works one-on-one with companies to deliver specific training programs. It also offers ongoing, customized training to keep employees up-to-date and productive.

Population 200k – 500k
Commerce Lexington Inc.
When we assessed the best practices for mid-sized locations, the consistent sparkle from a gem in the heart of Bluegrass Country caught our eye. Year in and year out, the folks at Commerce Lexington Inc. are setting the standard for a full-service, highly professional economic development effort, making the organization a clear choice as the winner of our Economic Development Excellence Award in the Population 200k-500k category. The numbers alone don’t tell the success story for the Lexington, KY region, but they are impressive: overall, in 2011, more than $133 million in new capital investment was pulled into the region, including about $67.5 million for the top 10 projects alone.

Commerce Lexington Inc.’s economic development strategy focuses on three core initiatives—business attraction, business retention and expansion, and entrepreneurial development. The aim of these efforts is to create new primary jobs that increase the per capita income, as well as new income entering the community, and to create greater capital investment in the region. In tandem with these efforts, Commerce Lexington also implements community development strategies supporting minority business and workforce development.

Commerce Lexington approaches these strategies with a regional perspective. Recruiting new industry and investment in the Bluegrass Region is a team effort, with participants including the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development and the Bluegrass Alliance, a regional economic development group that brings together professionals, utility companies and assets from the University of Kentucky with a focus on development in the central Kentucky area.

Hardly a week goes by without a major job-creating investment announcement from Commerce Lexington. Most recently, GE Lighting said it will invest approximately $10 million at its Lexington Lamp Plant to produce a new line of energy-efficient lighting products. The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority approved GE Lighting for tax incentives up to $600,000 through the Kentucky Business Investment program. The performance-based incentive allows the company to keep a portion of its investment over the term of the agreement through corporate income tax credits and wage assessments by meeting job and investment targets.

Our honorable mention for this category goes to GO Topeka/Greater Topeka (KS) Chamber of Commerce. GO Topeka’s efforts on behalf of Topeka and Shawnee counties yielded a combined capital investment of $250 million in 2011. The “icing” on Topeka’s economic development cake came from Mars Chocolate’s decision to build its first U.S. factory in more than 35 years in Topeka. The $250-million factory, which is expected to have an economic impact of $3.24 billion over the next 10 years (creating 425 new jobs), garnered an honorable mention in our 2011 Economic Development Deal of the Year Awards. In addition to food manufacturing, GO Topeka is targeting new development in biomedical, back office/financial services, logistics and distribution and clean technology.

Population 50k – 200k
Midland Tomorrow (MI)
The winner of our Economic Development Excellence Award for the Population 50k-200k category, Midland Tomorrow, serves Midland County, MI, a hub of chemical and alternative energy manufacturing in the Midwest.

The core of Midland Tomorrow’s work involves what the organization likes to call “economic gardening”—providing assistance to local second- and third-stage manufacturers in defining their growth plans and connecting them with available local resources to assist those plans in six key areas: human resources and organization, finance, innovation, sales and commercialization, marketing data and analysis and core strategy/CEO leadership. Midland Tomorrow holds annual retention visits with more than 90 local companies annually.

Dow Corning has invested heavily in Midland in recent years, putting $180 million into local plant expansions from 2006 to 2011. This investment was made possible by a blend of state tax credits and local property tax abatements; for these incentives, Midland Tomorrow acted as the liaison between the company and local and state municipalities.

Dow Chemical, meanwhile, has launched a group of projects in the last two years that are projected to bring over 3,000 jobs to the area and invest over $600 million into the community. Dow is investing heavily in its Dow AgroSciences business this year, with $132 million slated in plant upgrades and improvements to support production. In addition, the Dow Business Process Service Center, a joint venture with India-based Tata Consultancy Services, opened in Midland in the summer of 2011; this facility, which provides back-end business services for Dow and other clients, accounts for 1250 of the jobs total of 3,000.

Dow has also launched two projects that relate directly to Midland Tomorrow’s business attraction efforts: Dow Solar Solutions (manufacturing photovoltaic roof shingles for residential applications) and Dow Kokam Advanced Battery Group (a partnership with Kokam America to manufacture advanced lithium-ion batteries for hybrid vehicles). These two projects form the nexus of Midland’s burgeoning alternative energy manufacturing cluster.

An Honorable Mention in this category went to the City of South Jordan, UT.

The demographics of South Jordan are extremely favorable to retail development. Households in the city have higher than average incomes; In fact, 62 percent of South Jordan’s workforce receives an annual income of $75,000 or more compared to only 36 percent of households in Salt Lake County.

The RiverPark Corporate Office Park on the east side of the City provides over 1 million square feet of Class “A” office space and is the home to the majority of the 27 corporate headquarters within the City.

Population Less Than 50k
Ardmore (OK) Development Authority
An economic development growth philosophy centered on quality and diversity that benefits the community is the hallmark of Ardmore Development Authority, making the Oklahoma organization our Economic Development Excellence winner in the Population Less Than 50k category.

The Development Authority is poised to meet a diverse segment of business needs. With four industrial parks totaling more than 3,000 acres, a variety of shovel-ready sites are available. The Authority also offers unique build-to-suit options and has successfully constructed, leased or sold over 4 million square feet of building space.

Technology development is another target for the ADA. Ardmore’s 40-acre Technology Park is part of a 240-acre, ADA-owned development that includes an innovative housing subdivision started and developed by the ADA, commercial development and the tech park with incubator. Nearly 75 acres is set aside in the park for green space and trails. Targeted companies include, biotechnology, sensors and advanced manufacturing. Companies who have been awarded an SBIR Phase I grant and have been asked to apply for Phase II funding are eligible for a $50,000 incentive should they locate in the tech park. In addition, the incubator offers sophisticated equipment and a clean room for use by tenants.

Aerospace is another development target due to the capabilities at the Ardmore Airpark. This 2500-acre ADA-owned facility includes two runways (the longest is 9,000 feet) and capacity to handle wide-body freight aircraft. The Airpark is a designated foreign trade zone which boasts interstate access, rail on site and air shipment capabilities. A logistics leader that has embraced this location is the 1.2 million square foot Dollar General Distribution Center.

Bioscience development in Ardmore has a significant footprint with the Oklahoma State University Bioscience Center and the Noble Foundation, a 300-employee research institute known worldwide.

An excellent industry tailored workforce development program is found at the Southern Oklahoma Technology Center. Local industries benefit from tailored programs designed to train potential new employees and upgrade training for existing employees. But, Ardmore believes that workforce development begins with K-12 education.

The Ardmore Chamber-sponsored Cornerstone program is a $3.2 million effort that implements and administers a testing program that provides extensive and immediate feedback for instructors, data warehousing, pay-for-performance for teachers, total funding for a summer school program, signing bonuses for teachers in hard-to-fill subjects and the AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination).

Our Honorable Mention in the Population Less Than 50k Category goes to Jackson County Industrial Development Corp.

Headquartered in Seymour, IN, the Jackson County IDC was created in 1984 in the midst of double-digit unemployment, a declining tax base and few jobs for the next generation of workers. Located along Interstate 65 in southern Indiana, one hour south of Indianapolis, IN, one hour north of Louisville, KY and 90 minutes west of Cincinnati, OH, community leaders believed the area was ripe for development.

Within the first five years, the area welcomed several new industries, including three international companies, as a result of attraction efforts of JCIDC in partnership with the state and utility companies. By 1990, more than 1,000 new jobs had been created and the assessed value of Jackson County had more than doubled.

In the 1990s, JCIDC created the Workforce Partnership. Today, the Partnership helps facilitate a number of programs for middle school and high school students, plus post-secondary and the incumbent workforce. Among those programs are “Dream It—Do It” (which encourages careers in advanced manufacturing) and Project Lead the Way (which places emphasis on STEM classes: science, technology, engineering and math) as well as job shadowing, senior mock interviews (for all seniors in the five county high schools), company tours, classroom presentations and career days.

In 2012, more than 20 businesses and industries contribute to the Partnership, while overall, more than 70 entities help support the efforts of JCIDC. JCIDC worked with the Seymour Redevelopment Commission to help create a new local loan program: ECLIPSE (EConomic Loan Incentive Program for SEymour), which recently helped attract a new distribution center to kick off 2012. That announcement followed a record-year in 2011, when JCIDC reported more than $81 million in promised investment which bettered the previous high of $68 million in 2005.

Achievement in Targeted Incentives
When we decided to create an awards category for Achievement in Targeted Incentives, we knew we were risking eyestrain due to the wealth of worthy candidates from across the nation. As we begin to scan the most impressive incentives and winnow them down to the most creative and effective offerings, it also become apparent that there would have to be more than one winner. In fact, there are five, and here they are:

Louisiana Economic Development takes the award for the Digital Media and Software Incentive, which is fueling the explosive growth of the Bayou State’s digital media industry. This incentive provides a 25 percent refundable tax credit on qualified production expenditures and a 35 percent refundable tax credit for Louisiana resident labor expenditures. There are no minimum investment requirements and no cap on costs. The incentive is eligible to digital interactive media productions in Louisiana, excluding largely static Internet sites and products regulated under the Louisiana Game Control Law.

While we generally skewed our evaluation in favor of recently introduced incentives, a venerable program from the heartland could not be ignored. Thus, we award the Nebraska Department of Economic Development for the Nebraska Super Advantage program, which specifically rewards all non-retail companies that create higher-paying jobs. To qualify, the new jobs must pay at least 150 percent of the state average wage, or 200 percent of the county average, whichever is greater. Companies that create 75 new jobs and make a $10-million capital investment—or 50 new jobs and a $100-million investment—can receive a sales and use tax refund on capital purchases; a 10 percent wage credit on new employee compensation; a 15 percent investment tax credit; and a 10-year exemption on all personal property.

In our New Jersey Business Report this month, we highlight some major projects that were spurred by the state’s Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit, which has garnered our Achievement in Targeted Incentives Award for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. This forward-thinking financial tool is designed to spur private capital investment, business development and employment by providing tax credits for businesses planning a large expansion or relocating to one of New Jersey’s designated Urban Transit Hubs. The program offers developers, owners or tenants up to 100 percent of a qualified capital investment made within an eight period. Taxpayers may apply 10 percent of the total credit amount per year over a ten-year period against their corporate business tax, insurance premiums tax or gross income tax liability. Developers or owners must make a minimum $50 million capital investment in a single business facility, and at least 250 full-time employees must work at that facility. Tenants in a qualified business facility can represent at least $17.5 million of the capital investment in the facility, and up to three tenants may aggregate to meet the 250 employee requirement.

The Mississippi Development Authority earned an award for the Mississippi Aerospace Initiative Incentives Program, which provides tax incentives to companies that manufacture or assemble components for the aerospace industry or provide research, development or training services for the sector and are looking to locate or expand in the state. These incentives include a 10-year exemption from income and franchise taxes, as well as a sales and use tax exemption for the start-up of the facility. In order to qualify, companies must invest a minimum of $30 million and create at least 100 full-time jobs.

With a vision to fuel economic growth in Northern Kentucky and lay the foundation of an informatics-industry cluster, a super business accelerator called UpTech has been created to provide startup companies with what every new business seeks—financial and developmental support. We are pleased to bestow our Achievement in Targeted Incentives Award on Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corp. for the UpTech Super Business Accelerator.

In a highly creative and unique initiative, UpTech is committed to funding 50 of the best and brightest early-stage informatics companies from the United States and abroad. UpTech will invest up to $100,000 into each of the 50 winning startup companies that demonstrate their commercial potential through an application and review process. UpTech will also provide each business with six months of free, premium riverfront office space in, with a view of the Cincinnati skyline, along with essential business support.

The UpTech winners will also receive support from faculty, staff and graduate assistants and two student interns from Northern Kentucky University’s College of Informatics for each company along with on-campus informatics labs and facilities for collaboration, events, and seminars.

Achievement in Public-Private Partnership
Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance
Over the past decade, we have chronicled the proliferation of public-private partnerships as an alternative or supplement to state-run economic development agencies and/or departments of commerce. Not all public-private partnerships are created equal. A few have emphasized the private side to the extent that transparency and credible metrics for job creation get lost in the equation.

But the best public-private partnerships bring together a high-powered team of business leaders and economic development specialists who leverage the assets of a region to establish a coherent strategy for development and brand the location as a prime site for new business.

The winner of our Achievement in Public-Private Partnership Award has set the standard for best practices in this dominant new economic development model. Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance has forged a powerhouse collection of area CEOs into a driving force for growth. The CEO Council of Greater Fort Lauderdale recently has been involved in several high-profile initiatives that are raising national awareness for the region. A TV commercial produced by Zimmerman Advertising has featured CEO Council members Wayne Huizenga, Mike Jackson, Roy Krause and Keith Koenig along with County Administrator Bertha Henry and NFL Hall of Famer Dwight Stephenson. The TV ads, which aired for six months in the NY/NJ/CT and Boston markets and on JetBlue’s in-flight TV, conclude with Huizenga’s memorable tag line: “Hey, it’s not what you make, it’s what you keep” The top execs also appeared in print display ads.

Our Honorable Mentions in the Achievement in Public-Private Partnership category went to Buffalo Niagara Enterprise (BNE), Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the Upstate South Carolina Alliance.

BNE was cited for its success in branding an eight-county region of Western New York as a prime venue for development which offers excellent infrastructure, a superior workforce, a positive business climate and abundant natural resources. We were particularly impressed with effectiveness of the partnership’s efforts to draw new business to New York from Canada through its marketing campaign, A Million Reasons to Expand Your Business to Buffalo Niagara.

Achievement in Downtown Revitalization
Brick City Development Corp.
For our first annual Achievement in Downtown Revitalization Award, we took note not only of recent progress in the cities that made our list of finalists, but also how far they have come in breathing new life into their urban centers. After a decade-long malaise, Newark, NJ is undergoing a renaissance that is transforming its downtown into a model of 21st Century urban development. This effort has been spearheaded by our award winner, Brick City Development Corp.

As detailed in this month’s New Jersey Business Report, Newark has made wise use of the state’s Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit incentive to spur major projects, including the relocation of Panasonic and the planned new headquarters for insurance giant Prudential.

Construction has begun on the new Courtyard by Marriott at the Prudential Center, a mixed-use hotel and retail project that is being billed as a significant catalyst to the economic growth of the downtown Newark area by bringing added new investments, ratables, and employment to the Brick City.

Located just a few blocks from Newark Penn Station, the Courtyard by Marriott will be the first new hotel for the City’s downtown in nearly four decades. The development is expected to generate approximately 175 one-time construction jobs, and a total of between 50 and 75 permanent jobs through the hotel and retail operations. Marriott International will manage the hotel operation.

Tucker Development Corporation, a developer of shopping center and mixed-use properties throughout the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions, is developing the project, and will lease and manage the development’s approximately 14,000 square feet of ground floor retail space.

Some of the biggest names in politics, finance and real estate broke ground recently on Teachers Village, a mixed-use development in downtown Newark that will create two school buildings, which will house three schools and a daycare center; more than 200 moderately-priced rental apartments for Newark teachers; and more than 20 on-street retail establishments, which will include restaurants, medical offices and local and national stores.

Ron Beit, managing member of lead developer RBH Group, was joined by Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker and deputy mayor for economic development, Adam Zipkin; Governor Chris Christie; Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, which is a capital provider in Teachers Village; international investor Nicolas Berggruen, president of Berggruen Holdings and a major partner in the project; and Richard Meier, the Newark-born, nationally renowned architect, who created the master plan for the project.

The first phase of a larger development, Teachers Village will result in 460 temporary construction jobs and 460 permanent jobs, according to estimates. Retail tenants will be able to begin building out their spaces by the end of this year and open for business in the summer of 2013, and the first residents will be able to occupy apartments in the fall of 2013. The residential units cover about 200,000 square feet, and the units are being pre-marketed to Newark-based teachers.

Centrally located on Halsey Street, Teachers Village will also allow for the expansion and relocation of three charter schools—Great Oaks, Discovery Charter School and Team Academy—as well as the CHEN School daycare. The two school buildings will represent about 90,000 square feet and serve about 800 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. CHEN will occupy about 11,000 square feet and will service about 150 children.

New Jersey’s largest city has made steady progress in attracting new businesses to the city while maintaining its traditional employment base, a growing center of leading institutions of higher education and a world-class logistics and transportation hub. We are confident Newark has set in place the foundation for future success and have adopted an economic development strategy that will continue to produce positive results.

Achievement in Workforce Training
Louisiana Economic Development
Loyal followers of our annual state rankings report will not be surprised that Louisiana Economic Development is the hands-down winner of our first Achievement in Workforce Training Award for the Louisiana FastStart program. FastStart’s innovative training initiative has been the perennial front runner in our ranking of state training programs. FastStart’s innovative, customized programs are available to companies that meet eligibility requirements and are aligned with Louisiana’s diverse economic develop- ment targets, which include digital media, headquarters and business operations, service industries, advanced and traditional manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, and research and development.

To qualify for FastStart, a company must first commit to creating a net of at least 15 new, permanent manufacturing jobs, or a net of at least 50 new, permanent service-related jobs. Each request is evaluated prior to project commencement to ensure all eligibility requirements are met.

FastStart played a pivotal role in the development of Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, which recently produced an Academy Award-winning animated short.

Honorable Mentions in our Achievement in Workforce Training category went to Georgia’s Quick Start program and the readysc Training Program in South Carolina.

Quick Start Employee Training provides customized training for new employees in skill-based jobs at no cost to qualifying companies. The training program is given to the company for its future use. Quick Start provides training space, instructors and all needed materials related to the program, potentially saving companies millions of dollars in training costs. The readysc™ program, offered through the S.C. Technical College System, provides pre-job training at little or no cost for eligible new or expanding companies with curricula tailored to meet a company’s workforce requirements. The comprehensive program includes recruiting, screening, testing, developing customized instruction material along with coordinating and upfitting training space.

Achievement in Reorganization of Economic Development
New Jersey Partnership for Action
The Garden State for many years has had to fight an uphill battle against the perception that its business climate has been, to put it diplomatically, a bit surly. Two years ago, a new governor set about to change that perception with one of the most comprehensive reorganizations of statewide economic developments we’ve seen in a long time. Under the umbrella of the New Jersey Partnership for Action and headed by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the plan consists of three highly-focused organizational elements—Choose New Jersey, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, and the Business Action Center—that provide economic development services, link companies to incentive programs and attract international investment to others. The change has been dramatic and effective, and it made our choice for the first annual winner of our Achievement in Reorganization of Economic Development Award an easy one.

Achievement in Ports/Foreign Trade Zone Development
Philadelphia Regional Port Authority
Philadelphia has one of the oldest and most venerable ports in the United States. It’s harbor often was the point of arrival for the nation’s founding fathers when they emigrated from Great Britain in the early 1700s. But Philadelphia is not resting on its laurels: the port is busy preparing to meet the challenges of 21st Century commerce, including an expansion of the Panama Canal that will see huge cargo ships arriving at East Coast ports directly from Asia beginning in 2014. Thus we bestow our first annual Achievements in Ports/Foreign Trade Zone Development Award on the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority. PRPA has renewed its MOU for the Panama Canal Authority and it has undertaken a channel-deepening project along the 102-mile Delaware River shipping lane. We also are impressed with PRPA’s ability to maintain and grow a thriving shipping hub while undertaking these improvements, evidenced by double-digit increases in cargo tonnage at the port in the past two years, despite a very challenging national and regional economy.

Achievement in High-Tech Cluster Development
When we decided to honor Achievement in High-Tech Cluster Development, we quickly realized that we could not limit this award to a single technology sector. So we have selected five standard-bearers to be our first recipients of this award, which is our recognition of the national centers of excellence in each of these emerging high-tech growth clusters. Our winners are: Kansas Bioscience Authority, for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, soon to be the nation’s premier biodefense facility, located in the heart of the Kansas animal health corridor; Commerce Lexington and the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development for the Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing R&D Center, which is in the forefront of the development of lithium-ion batteries for use in electric vehicles; Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities for the Solar Zone at UA Science and Tech Park, located in the heart of Arizona’s “solar city,” the leading U.S. hub for solar energy manufacturing; the Capital Region (NY) Economic Development Corp., for the CNSE Nanotech complex, perhaps the most advanced research facility in the world for the development of nanotech-scale semiconductors; and the Virginia Partnership for the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing. The Commonwealth Center is anchored by jet maker Rolls Royce’s two major facilities in northern Virginia (the first of which was our 2008 Deal of the Year Gold Award winner).

Building Inspiration Award
The Group C Media Building Inspiration Award is a our recognition of an economic development agency that has exhibited exceptional character and a professional, coordinated response to an unexpected challenge that tested the resolve of the community. Our first annual Building Inspiration Award goes to the Joplin (MO) Area Chamber of Commerce.

On May 22, 2011, the deadliest tornado to hit the U.S. in more than a century tore through the heart of Joplin, MO. The mile-wide twister, with 200 m.p.h. winds, left a 12-mile-long path of destruction and took 161 lives from a city of 50,000. It flattened more than 7,500 homes and 557 businesses. Nine of the city’s schools were destroyed or severely damaged, including Joplin High School. Fortunately, the tornado hit on a Sunday and all of the schools were empty.

Within hours of the deadly May 22 storm, the world began to understand the solid character of the people of Joplin as story after story emerged of heroic acts of individual courage and sacrifice in the face of certain death, including the nurses at St. John’s Regional Medical Center who ran upstairs to save bedridden patients as the tornado slammed directly into the hospital, carrying away its top floor. Six people died at the medical center, but thanks to the heroic staff, 183 were safely evacuated.

The medical center became an iconic image of the May 22 storm, its windows blown out and its Medivac helicopter lying on its side. So did the local Home Depot, demolished beyond recognition, shards of its familiar orange sign winding around twisted debris on the ground.

Even while they were still assessing the damage in the hours after the tornado struck, Joplin’s can-do residents rolled up their sleeves and began to rebuild.

Less than a week after the storm wreaked havoc, St. John’s resumed operations. A temporary tent hospital was set up across the street from the wrecked building. At the ravaged Home Depot, employees in orange vests were busy helping customers stock up on building materials piled high on tables in the parking lot of the demolished store. Workers hammered away in another section of the lot, putting up a 30,000-square-foot temporary building.

On May 26, just four days after the storm hit, Joplin opened a Business Recovery Center (BRC), the fastest BRC opening in the history of the U.S. Small Business Administration. A Business Recovery Fund was established which raised $50,000 in its first 48 hours. Joplin’s businesses managed to keep 3,000 of a total of 5,000 displaced workers on their payrolls without interruption.

Perhaps most impressive of all, within two days of the disaster Joplin Schools Superintendent C.J. Huff announced that, without a doubt, schools would reopen on schedule on Aug. 17, 2011. On the date Huff had designated, a new Joplin High School opened its doors in a facility that was constructed in just 55 days in a vacant department store at the back of a shopping mall. Temporary modular facilities also opened to replace the eight elementary schools that were damaged during the storm. Despite the widespread displacement, 6,978 students were marked present for the first day of school on Aug. 17, just 750 less than the enrollment at the end of last year.

Today, less than a year after the disaster, 443 of the businesses that were damaged or destroyed by the tornado have reopened. The Small Business Administration has approved $11.7 million in disaster loans for the businesses of Joplin. The Joplin Tomorrow Fund, launched by former Sen. John Danforth, has raised $1.4 million.

It is our privilege to bestow our first Building Inspiration award to the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce—and to the people of Joplin, MO, whose courage and tenacity have inspired everyone.

Achievement in New Media
Best Use of Social Media
Pasco County (FL) EDC

Pasco County Economic Development Council realized that their audience was to be reached not only through their website, but also through various networking tools. A set of five goals were defined at the outset of their campaign, which supported them in knowing what action steps needed to be taken. They understood that social media marketing is a moving target and took the proper actions to strengthen their efforts (i.e., hiring a social media specialist, creating a campaign around their slogan, and producing their own content). Pasco County’s branding and design was also very consistent across all platforms, something that a lot of organizations miss the mark on because they are trying to do too much with social media.

Pasco’s actions have yielded impressive growth. Their Facebook page has received close to 5,200 post views (up 264 percent) and their Twitter page has grown from 30 to more than 185 followers (up 375 percent) since January 1. While there is no direct correlation between their social media efforts and their main website, they have seen 60 percent growth in their page visits in 2012. Their rapid growth shows that their efforts have been successful in this campaign.

Best Use of Video
Sumter County, SC

We received nearly a dozen online video submissions for our first annual Best Use of Media Award. The standout came from Sumter County, SC. Sumter’s video was a highly professional and eye-pleasing presentation which concisely detailed the business opportunities in the area while giving a nod to its history and quality of life.

Business Facilities thanks Jason Hickey (president, Hickey & Associates), Philip Anderson (president, PW Anderson and Partners), Jan Dickinson (president, The Dickinson Consulting Group) and Jay Garner (president and founder, Garner Economics) for their assistance in judging our Economic Development Awards.