Economic development organizations always are ready to spring into action when they receive an RFP for a major project that is looking for a location to call home. But some of the most successful development efforts can result from what these agencies do when the mailbox is empty, RFP-wise.
We’ve been keeping our eyes peeled for development programs that have opened lines of communication with existing local businesses and proactively deploy this constant dialogue to ensure retentions, generate expansions and bring in new facilities. We’ve spotted a great example—and we think it’s not a stretch to call it the “gold standard” for this type of growth strategy.
An IndustryWeek profile recently highlighted the extraordinary success in Elk Grove Village, IL, which is a stone’s throw from one of the nation’s busiest airports, Chicago’s O’Hare. Elk Grove Village is home to one of the largest industrial parks in the U.S., a park encompassing more than 62 million square feet. More than 3,600 businesses have chosen this location; the city has the second-largest manufacturing workforce in the state.
Elk Grove Village Director of Business Development Josh Grodzin told IndustryWeek his top priority is “connecting people.” Grodzin’s team spends a lot of time making sure the city’s manufacturers know the extent of the supply chain in the region.
Grodzin came on board five years ago, at the tail end of the Great Recession, when the city’s business vacancy rate was 13 percent. One of his first directives made sure that his economic development professionals were well trained in business practices and customer service. He told them all to go out and “knock on the doors” of local businesses and find out exactly what they needed. One business exec who opened the door told him it was the first time anyone from the city had made such an inquiry in about 30 years, IndustryWeek reports.
Grodzin doubled down on this networking strategy by creating an event called the Made in Elk Grove Manufacturing & Technology Expo. Last year’s Expo drew 1,000 attendees, including Gov. Bruce Rauner. To cement the connections made at the event, the city also created BizHub.com, a site that connects businesses to potentially valuable partners in neighboring businesses, encouraging companies already located in the city’s sprawling business park to do business with each other. The site also assists them in getting access to available workforce training programs.
Elk Grove Village has established connections that enable it to spread its message throughout the huge Chicagoland metro. The city is a partner of the Golden Corridor Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. which supports high school and college students in Chicago’s northwest suburbs get a leg up on careers in tech, manufacturing and engineering. The city also is busy preparing for the surge of growth opportunities that will be generated by the new national manufacturing innovation institute in the neighborhood, the Digital Manufacturing & Design Institute.
Grodzin’s team was ahead of the curve in recognizing that site selection is becoming much more of a regional competition, meaning that companies are evaluating the growth potential of a region’s business ecosystem before selecting a specific location for their next facility.
But Elk Grove Village isn’t limiting its reach to regional boundaries. At last year’s Expo, the city pitched a manufacturing incubator from Turkey. Here’s the result: the EVE Group, based in Turkey, is setting up a Turkish Trade Center in Elk Grove Village as an incubator for Turkish businesses that want to set up shop in the city; the center will consist of 18 showrooms, office space and a large warehouse, IndustryWeek reports.
Not impressed yet? Here’s the bottom line: Elk Grove Village’s vacancy rate dropped to 4.84 percent in the second quarter of 2016.