Maybe it was only a matter of time before I ended up in Windsor, Ontario, addressing a gathering of civic leaders, corporate executives and economic developers, as I did in mid-June. My colleagues and I do these gigs frequently, but I’ve personally never had so much fun doing one. Windsor — just across from Detroit — is the city my parents grew up in and the area we would visit to see relatives when I was growing up. My ties to the area, including southeast Michigan, are too numerous to mention here, but they are extensive.
Given its proximity to Detroit, Windsor has long had a booming auto industry, among others. It still does. Advanced manufacturing, food processing and precision tools for manufacturing sectors large and small are among its strengths today.
But I didn’t go there to tell the attendees what they already know. I went to Windsor to tell them what they needed to hear, in my humble opinion. This message should resonate with readers in mid-sized cities throughout the Midwest, the broader US and beyond. One of my homework assignments for the group (I couldn’t help it — I taught college freshman writing in a previous life) was for attendees to get comfortable waving the region’s flag, especially when site seekers are in town. The economic developers are generally good at this already. This point was directed to the corporate attendees, and by extension to you. I instructed them to find the company representatives with the best stories to tell and get them out front in efforts to attract more capital investment, to get exciting talent acquisition programs like apprenticeships and mentoring programs into the civic dialogue, and to realize the area is competing not just nationally but globally for new projects and the talent that follows.
Your metro, like Windsor and the greater Detroit area, has plenty of challenges. You know them better than I do. Does it do enough in the way of quantifying available skill sets to potential investors? Does it have infrastructure issues that seem insurmountable? Does it have political leadership that slows down or facilitates companies becoming operational quickly when they establish new operations? Is your central business district or corporate campus one your future workforce will want to come to work at every day? Are there recreational and cultural outlets for your workers, especially those coming into the workforce, that will keep them from relocating after a year or two?
Even if your area comes up on the short side of some or all of these, there’s another side of the coin. I’ve been on countless press and fam tours of areas worldwide, and I’ve never left one without learning about location assets I would never have known. So for every challenge — real or perceived — your location may have, find the counterbalances, the advantages, that will help new area entrants succeed, and help tell the story. Most companies in your area likely face skills gaps and other workforce issues that a larger employment base would help alleviate. The more companies that pick your city the better, so help tell them why they should.
Till next time,
Mark Arend, Editor in Chief