There’s power, and then there’s the power of relationships.
When I asked Erin Schneider, director of economic development for Duke Energy Indiana, about collaboration and partnership, she said, “Economic development is a team sport, and we consider our team a family. Beyond our participation on the various boards and initiatives in the communities we serve, we are always adapting our programs to support our partners’ differing needs and strategies.”
That support is translating to prosperity for communities throughout Duke Energy territory in the Carolinas, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. The cooperative efforts of the utility’s economic development teams in 2020 contributed to the creation of more than 18,000 new jobs and $9.1 billion in new capital investment.
A major part of attracting that level of investment is a level of supreme readiness. It’s a word Duke uses in one of its signature initiatives, the Duke Energy Site Readiness program. Since the program’s inception in 2005, 313 sites have been evaluated, and 71 large projects have been won on evaluated sites — GITI Tire, Sierra Nevada Brewery and Clearwater Paper have been among those investors. Their projects have resulted in approximately 13,850 jobs and $10.1 billion in capital investment (includes projects announced but not yet started).
Site Readiness is just one aspect of a holistic approach to economic development that also includes the pillars of business recruitment and technical support through the team’s new technical services squad. The business recruiters do the team’s lead generation work.
“Those folks are road warriors,” says Stu Heishman, vice president of economic development and business recruitment, notwithstanding the temporary halt during the pandemic. Business recruitment staff are highly networked within crucial target industries such as automotive, aerospace, food & beverage, big-box distribution, data centers and advanced manufacturing. They’re engaged locally too: John Nelms, senior economic development manager in North Carolina who oversees the Research Triangle Park area, this year is serving as president of the North Carolina Economic Developers Association.
Those lead generators hand off opportunities to economic development project managers at the state level who know the region’s site product and actively engage with local boards and community organizations.
The newest pillar is the technical services branch just launched this year. “Their focus is to take on highly challenging projects and develop technical solutions to their power needs,” Heishman says.
Solutions developed by such a holistic approach can sometimes yield more than envisioned at the outset: Project Green Acres not only brought a Nestle Purina Petcare facility to North Carolina, but a new logistics operation to Ohio. “It was a unique project that touched all parts of our program,” Heishman says.
But it’s the non-technical solutions that matter too, like the work of the Duke Energy Foundation, which contributes more than $30 million annually. Much of that money is philanthropic, but workforce development is part of the utility’s mission too.
“The Duke Energy Foundation has worked with technical colleges, universities and training programs with grant funding to retool and train individuals to meet the workforce demand,” says Steve West, director of economic development for Duke in South Carolina.
In the economic development world, that sort of all-encompassing approach is akin to treating people like family. In the Duke family, there’s power.