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Selling vs. Positioning

When a large economic development project is announced, many often assume that the happy result came from someone going out making their best sales pitch to reel in that company.  Perhaps that is true, but nothing can out-sell the lack of product in a community.  A successful sales pitch is only made possible as a result of a community investing in infrastructure and landowners and developers supporting land assembly.

The commitment to the development process rather than just the sell is called “positioning”.  The salesperson, usually an economic developer or appointed community leader, is often the most visible participant in the final stages of the deal when the project is introduced to the community.  But the years of investment by multiple partners which preceded the business project is the most important component of the deal.  Usually communities make investments years in advance not even knowing what companies they will secure in the community, or even target, but still make these investments with the mindset that companies need access to utilities, transportation and land.

Without a plan to connect utilities or support the usage demands of a commercial or industrial client, the effort to recruit business is all for naught.  Similarly, unless there is a landowner willing to work with a community to receive the infrastructure or sell to an interested business investor, the salesperson trying to bring in business is better off watching re-runs of Super Bowl XLVIII than trying to recruit jobs.

As an example, during the summer of 2011, Cumming made a big announcement that they were taking a major step forward to grow as a community.  Two years later, people often ask me “What happened to Cumming?”  The community is positioning themselves to reach their potential, I respond, and the city leaders no doubt are committed to community growth through those investments.  While this might not be the gazelle approach that many of us would like, it is the more responsible and thoughtful approach – and it will pay off.

At present Cumming is working to invest in a Phase Two wastewater project which will allow the original part of their community to be connected to the Wastewater Reclamation Authority which has the additional benefit of predicating a Phase Three extension towards Interstate 35.  Properties in the latter area have been called by some area leaders as the most attractive parcels for development in the Des Moines Metro region.

Another example is Summercrest Park in Indianola.  Developers have successfully landed a number of great employers for our community.  But without the cooperation of the Picken family, or partnerships between the City and utility partners along with the expanding businesses in that park, nothing would differentiate the land on the north side of Indianola from anyone else’s land.

Developers with properties along the Highway 5 bypass, including Warren County sites in Carlisle and Des Moines, hope for similar results as they “position” their properties for success.  One way to position Highway 5 is to re-designate this section of highway to a new interstate highway, which has the support of a large regional coalition which includes Warren County.  Even if we have the best campaigns and spend the most dollars to attract activity to Warren County, we can only sustain success for the long-term by working and planning methodically in this matter.

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