CRE Midwest

The power of teamwork: It's how EDCs and communities bring in the jobs

The power of teamwork: It's what makes EDCs thrive,ph01
The Northwest Indiana Forum is a busy economic development corporation serving the Northwest Indiana region. It promotes the opportunities that the area offers to businesses, such as the busy Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.

Teamwork matters today. Just ask Kevin Kramer, economic development director with the Village of Hoffman Estates in suburban Chicago.

Kramer, like most economic development professionals, understands just how important it is to work with officials from village governments, neighboring economic development corporations and regional job-creation organizations to bring the best projects to his slice of Illinois.

And while Hoffman Estates might compete with nearby Schaumburg, Illinois, for a new retailer coming to the area, Kramer and his peers recognize that some projects spread the wealth throughout a region. It’s why economic development corporations increasingly work together to bring major job-creators, often in the industrial space, to a region, even if that new company won’t set up shop in their own municipality.

“We all recognize that our communities will benefit from a big industrial project, even if that project is located a community away,” Kramer said. “Because of that, the EDCs from neighboring communities often do work together when we have the chance to bring a big employer into the area.”

This isn’t new, of course. EDCs have long worked together – and have long worked with other promotional and development organizations – to better entire regions. But today, as the industrial market continues to soar and more companies are opening new distribution centers and warehouses, this teamwork has become even more important.

EDC officials recognize that when several groups work together, it tends to bring the greatest benefits to an area. Landing big-time industrial users? That’s just one example.

“Industrial has the highest jobs multiplier,” Kramer said. “For every industrial job you create, you will create more jobs in ancillary areas. The nearby grocery store has to hire more people to serve the new people who come to an area. The real estate agent sees more people coming to the area and sells more houses. Industrial raises all ships in an area, even if that industrial facility isn’t located directly in your village. People will drive for industrial jobs, and might move to your community to work an industrial job, that pays better, in a different one. They won’t drive to be a bagger at a grocery store.”

A good example of the partnership between EDCs and other community development organizations is the Golden Corridor Advanced Manufacturing Partnership in Schaumburg, Illinois. The partnership’s goal is to create a highly skilled workforce along the Interstate-90 “Golden Corridor,” a stretch that runs from O’Hare International Airport to the Northern Illinois community of Rockford.

The partnership holds open houses for middle school and high school students and their parents to see advanced manufacturing in action. It has bused students to manufacturing trade shows, too. The Golden Corridor program has also worked with Harper Community College to redevelop an advanced manufacturing program that now has about 350 students enrolled. The program has the potential to work with more than 1,000 students.

Elk Grove Village, the Village of Hoffman Estates, the Hoffman Estates Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Schaumburg Business Association and Village of Schaumburg have all worked together to develop the partnership.

The goal, again, is to boost the entire region, something that the economic development groups involved saw would most likely happen through cooperation.

“We all kind of fight for retail,” Kramer said. “You won’t see a tri-county economic development organization come in and advocate for bringing a retailer to the area. They’ll leave that up to the specific cities. But we do work together to try to attract larger manufacturers that can help rise all ships. I might compete with Schaumburg for the next big retailer, but when it comes to industrial and manufacturing, we recognize that we have to work together.”

As Kramer says, if a big manufacturer locates in Schaumburg, he’ll be happy that they chose the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. That’s because the residents of Hoffman Estates, the village that he represents, will see new jobs, too.

“It is a beneficial thing,” Kramer said. “It’s how we try to work with our neighboring communities to for business attraction and retention, too.”

Kramer said that EDCs have long worked together to boost the fortunes of entire regions. Today, though, this cooperation has become even more important as communities need a skilled labor force if they want to attract job-creators.

“Five or six years ago, workforce development was a buzzword,” Kramer said. “Now it is a battle cry. Our counties are hurt if they don’t have proper workforce development. Our companies are hurt. If we want to keep companies here, we need to develop a strong workforce. It’s not always easy to get politicians to agree on something, but all of our boards have recognized this fact. We will put aside our differences and work with our communities and neighbors. Doing so is beneficial to our business community and beneficial to our residents, too.”

Ivan Baker, president and chief executive officer of the North Central Illinois Economic Development Corporation in Oglesby, Illinois, agrees that the cooperative approach has led to several victories for the region his corporation serves.

“We always work with others in the effort to engage businesses,” Baker said. “We are always focused on bringing new businesses to our area and in helping our existing businesses when they have expansion plans. You can’t do that work on an island. It takes a team to create a good business environment, the type of environment that will attract and retain businesses.”

What attracts business to an area? Baker says it’s not “rocket science.” Businesses are looking for communities that boast a diversified economy, strong workforce, each access to transportation routes and pro-business governments.

Good leadership matters, Baker said. Areas need their private sector companies, public governments and non-profit organizations to work together to create the best business environment for companies.

“It takes the efforts of a lot of people working together to create a strong business environment,” Baker said. “It doesn’t just happen. It’s all about improving the economy for the betterment of everyone in an area.”

Working together has become more important as the world’s economy has changed, Baker said. Today, communities must think on a global scale if they want to attract those companies that create the most jobs.

This means that they aren’t just competing with neighboring municipalities or states when targeting businesses. Instead, they are competing on a global basis. The question becomes, why should an international company choose Northern Illinois for its home when it could locate anywhere across the globe?

“The most critical issue I’ve seen in recent years is that you have to be acting locally but thinking globally,” Baker said. “As an EDC, you have to work with your existing companies to help them think on a global scale.”

Baker said that the job of an EDC is to offer services that help companies develop their workforces so that they can compete in today’s evolving world of business. This means helping them master new technology and offer the amenities that attract the best workers.

It also means creating workforce development programs so that companies can access a trained workforce should they consider locating in Northern Illinois.

Those companies that do need skilled labor? Those are the ones that provide the best-paying jobs. And those are the type of jobs on which EDCs need to focus, Baker said.

“Your goal is to create wealth in an area,” Baker said. “You want to spend your time creating jobs that you would want your children or your grandchildren to have. If you are not doing that, you are not doing good economic development.”

A good example? Fliegl, the largest manufacturer of agricultural trailers across the globe, moved its North American operations from Elkhart, Wisconsin, to Utica, Illinois, in Northern Illinois. This is the type of company move that EDCs work hard to facilitate, Baker said.

Higher-paying jobs mean more money for the residents of an area, Baker said. If people are earning better incomes, they can save for their children’s college educations. They can buy homes. They can eat out. They can spend more to furnish their homes. They can take trips and visit museums.

In other words, they can live better lives, pumping money into the local economy as they do so. And that is what helps a region to thrive.

Again, this is why there is so much competition for industrial developments today.

“Industrial jobs pay better,” Baker said. “This is a great time for the distribution and logistics businesses. It’s a great time to land a corporate headquarters. The jobs that come with these developments are the jobs we want to bring here.”