Decatur Development Blog

Expansion and Development in the Greater Decatur area

Driving Decatur To The Future – Keys To Success: Industrial Recruitment

Posted by alalto on January 25, 2011

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So, did anyone like the entertaining-ish links?  If you did, leave a comment.  I think I’m just gonna stick with linking to Wikipedia pages and informative stuff like that.

So!  Industrial Recruitment (I’ll post the tourism section in a later post)

This is something that Decatur seems to do well on, but somehow we still see our city lagging behind in the expansion that we should be expecting.

Question: Why do I say expecting?

Answer: Because I believe Decatur has many attributes that other cities our size cannot begin to brag about:

  1. Airport
  2. River
  3. Rail
  4. Interstate
  5. Low cost of business
  6. Access to a highly educated work force
  7. A city willing to help with funding
  8. Large amounts of space
  9. A lot of flat land
  10. Lower presence of unions

Question Gorgonn is asking: What does this have to do with anything, how on earth does this give us an edge?

Answer: I thin we all know that the presence of ANY of these qualities weighs in a city’s favor when attracting industry.  HOWEVER, the average city like our’s in the USA with 45,000 to 75,000 people and a metro of 150,000 to 200,000 people can only usually offer 5 or 6 of these attributes.  A fortunate city would be able to brag about 7 of them.

You would think this gives us an enormous edge right?  Well, that is right, but it’s obviously not paying off.  The reason why is because Decatur is suffering from a feeling of small town identity.  Many citizens of our fair city believe us to be nothing more than a “bedroom community” of Huntsville which is entirely unfounded.

It’s a fact, we live in the shadow of Huntsville, but only because we allow ourselves to.  You’re probably wondering why I find this to be something that is optional.  The truth is, a city’s identity is only what its own citizens make it.  We can choose to live and thrive in our city, or we can choose to live in Decatur and thrive in Huntsville.  I’ll tell you now that the first option is much better.

Am I saying that our relationship with Huntsville is one that should be severed?  Not at all, I rather thing that it is something that should be encouraged and nurtured.  However, we cannot allow ourselves to lose our identity and switch our allegiances.  You want examples?  Here they are:

  1. Fort Worth and Dallas – Do you consider Fort Worth to be a bedroom community of Dallas?  If you’re smart, you’d probably say no.  The relationship between Fort Worth is such that while these two cities are inseparably bound, they are not one cultural entity.  I promise you that if you ever ask someone (who happens to be from Fort Worth) where they are from, they’ll say Fort Worth, not Dallas.  This is the best example of what our relationship with Huntsville should be.  Like Fort Worth and Dallas, we should resist the urge to become a single cultural mass while also embracing our relationship in a way that can only improve both of our chances of attracting projects and development that enhance the quality of our communities.
  1. Minneapolis / St. Paul – This example is not as good of one as the previous.  Why?  Because the city centers are almost literally right across the Mississippi River form each other.  While these two have not maintained the difference between their cultural identities in the way I would prefer us to, they have still successfully used their relationship to make stronger cases for new business and projects.
  2. Greenville – SpartanburgThis is probably the second best example you can ask for after DFW.  These cities are separated by 20-30 miles of I-85 in South Carolina and have had EXTREME success in using their relationship and combined qualities to attract numerous industrial projects that have lead to an increased quality of life and tax base.  You have probably heard our city leaders talk about emulating Greenville, SC many times because Greenville is the same size.  While the CITY of Greenville is about the same size as Decatur, its metro area is home to about 3.5 times more people than Decatur’s.  However, there are still lessons to be learned from the relationship between Spartanburg (the Decatur in this relationship) and Greenville (the Huntsville in this relationship).

You’re probably wondering, why does all of this matter?  What does this have to do with bringing in new industry and business?  This has everything to do with it.  Here are some reasons why municipal relationships and pride matter to industry and business:

  1. Let’s face it, Decatur is more blue collar, and that’s OK.  Huntsville is white collar, and that’s OK too.  The fact that we have to major cities within 20 miles of eachother that have large workforces of both blue and white collar workers is an asset.  It means we’re capable of attracting a multitude of different industries.  Anything from rocket manufacturers to the run of the mill steel mill.  Taking advantage of this relationship and asset is just another check in our column when an industry is considering our area.
  2. How does pride matter?  Believe it or not, industries like to know that you care about your community.  They figure that if Gorgonn the screw driver operator doesn’t enjoy living in a town like Decatur, he/she obviously isn’t going to enjoy screwing screws and will thus screw screws rather poorly.  What does this result in?  A product that probably functions in the same manner that Gorgonn believes his/her community does… like crap.

What do I think our leaders should do?

It’s simple really, they need to go after a more diverse group of industries.  I believe progress has been made in the establishment of the new industrial park in Hartselle along I-65 (Morgan Center Business Park).  HOWEVER, why don’t we hear of our leaders traveling to meet with leaders of companies that are looking to expand and could potentially do so in Decatur?  We’ve seen them travel to Greenville, SC to examine the progress they have made on their downtown, and while I believe that has been a productive trip, I think they need to start looking at business recruitment.

The fact is, we can provide any industrial project the right amount of space, utilities, and transportation networks that they need to be successful.  Unlike the Rust Belt, or infrastructure isn’t withering away and crashing under the pressure of being overcapacity.  Many leaders of successful cities travel and act as lobbyists for their towns, forming the relationships necessary to recruit industry.  We see them traveling to China, Germany, Korea, and other places with companies that have deep interests in expanding manufacturing and research into the Americas.  The Chinese in particular value the relationships that already have with American cities and states when deciding where to build a new plant.

In Bob Riley’s administration, there were numerous trips to various foreign countries for the purpose of economic development.  They’ve been very successful.  Our city needs to get involved in these trips, and have at least some representative among the delegation that at least lets corporate leadership in other countries know that our city exists.

Full Circle

This leads me back to near where I began.  Decatur and Huntsville have got to work together on this.  A win for one of us is a win for the other as well.  We’ve seen Birmingham and Tuscaloosa work together to land Mercedes and the same process needs to be replicated.  A company can set up shop in Huntsville, but we all know that every single employee won’t be living and/or shopping in Huntsville.  Some will live in Huntsville (most probably), and some will live in Madison, Athens, and Decatur.

Right now, we’re competing, and that needs to change.  In a usual competition, an entity wins something that the others didn’t, and that’s not the case here.  If Madison wins a project, the benefits bleed over into Huntsville, Decatur, and Athens.  You get the point.

Now, go email your councilmen or something…


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