Many economic developers describe the art of attracting large domestic and foreign companies as “buffalo hunting.” Some praise the practice saying that bagging the big, migratory beast fills a lot of stewpots and benefits the whole tribe. Others criticize economic development as being too focused on buffalo, rather than on local firms – the rabbits, squirrels and deer that fill most of our stewpots every day.
Since starting in 2012, APEG has focused mostly on local game. We know that 80-90 percent of new jobs come from growing companies already present in our economy. We have made thousands of calls on local companies, looking for ways to help them grow and succeed here in Appalachian Ohio. Our retention and expansion efforts have resulted in most of the 5500 plus new jobs we have helped grow in the region.
Mike Jacoby describes (below) how APEG is launching new efforts to attract companies to the region. So if existing companies create most new jobs, why is APEG focusing more effort on attraction? It’s because retention and expansion alone are not enough to support a vibrant regional economy.
In a perfect world, local firms would all thrive, grow and add jobs, but we all know that some companies downsize, move or close. To keep our economy healthy we need to replace those companies’ contributions to our economy. Startups are one way to replace lost jobs, but it takes a long time to grow a new company, and pay and benefits are often very low in a firm’s early days. That leaves a gap that can only be filled by attracting larger companies – buffalo – to our region.
Our region is blessed with a range of assets that can help us attract new firms – our central location, skilled workforce and great transportation infrastructure to name just three. What we haven’t had, until now, is a concentrated effort to promote our region as a great place to do business. Some local economic development organizations have done a good job promoting their community or county, but it is very hard for one city or county, alone, to gain the attention of larger firms. That’s where a regional approach can make a big difference.
We know we have the right mix of assets to compete for investments from major foreign and domestic firms; 34 Fortune 500 and 47 international firms have chosen our region as a great place to do business. It’s our job – and our challenge – to show other companies that the region is right for them.
We are not moving away from helping the companies that are here to grow and add jobs. We will still devote most of our effort to them. But it is time for us to do more, so we’ve joined the hunt to bring home the buffalo. It won’t be easy or quick but we are confident that it will help our region and people prosper.
In April Molinaro will be buffalo hunting as part of a JobsOhio contingent attending Hannover Messe, the world’s leading trade show for industrial technology held annually in Germany.