Austin, Lexington Cited for Economic Development Excellence

Business Facilities has introduced a new annual series of Economic Development Awards to 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 economic development excellence awards, 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).

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), 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).

Today, we are pleased to announce the winners of our Economic Development Excellence Awards.

There were many worthy contenders in our Economic Development Excellence (Population Greater Than 500k) category, 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,” said Editor-in-Chief Jack Rogers. “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.”

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 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,” Rogers noted. “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. 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 winner of our Economic Development Excellence Award (Population 200k – 500k) is Commerce Lexington Inc.

“Year in and year out, the folks at Commerce Lexington are setting the standard for a full-service, highly professional economic development effort, making the organization a clear choice for this award,” Rogers said.

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.

Our Honorable Mention in the 200k – 500k category goes to GO Topeka/Greater Topeka 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.

The winner of our Economic Development Excellence Award (Population 50k-200k), 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.

Midland-based Dow Chemical 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 the 50k – 200k category went to the City of South Jordan, UT.

The winner of our Economic Development Excellence Award (Population Less Than 50k) is Ardmore (OK) Development Authority. An Honorable Mention went to Jackson County (IN) Industrial Development Corp.