Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.


December 2007
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Archive for December, 2007

To spec or not to spec!

Every community and economic development group has had the ‘spec building’ discussion. Should we or shouldn’t we. If we do, what do we build? Unfortunately most groups stop right there and never get past the discussion stage. I should know because I’ve set in on several of those conversations. In fact, I even started a few of them. So what should we be doing?

Step One: Do a complete assessment of currently existing space that is suitable for different development purposes. If there are several existing structures that are ‘really available’ and immediately ready for use by the type of client you are targeting and that will not cost a fortune to redevelop then the answer is simple. You don’t need another building sitting around gathering dust and eating up interest money.

A word of caution here. I used the phrase ‘really available’ and that needs some clarification. If the current owner doesn’t have a solid selling price or if they say, ‘We’ll negotiate a fair price when the right buyer comes along’ then cross that building off your list as a substitute for a real spec building. It’s not really for sale and you don’t want your client to feel like they’re being jerked around……and they will be.

And ‘immediate’ means ‘immediate’. If the building is currently being used for ‘temporary’ storage or has any existing tenant then from the client’s point of view it’s not ‘really available.’ The ‘we can have it cleared out in a couple of weeks’ line won’t work so don’t even try it. Besides, the client is looking at five other buildings that are completely empty and from his perspective, your building won’t even be in the running.

Don’t get me wrong, these exisiting buildings should still be listed on your website and be part of your marketing efforts but NEVER let them stand in your way as you decide if you want to build a real spec building.

Just because there is some existing available space doesn’t mean you don’t need a spec building!

Helping Dislocated Workers – Will it Matter?

Ok, the title sounds dumb. Of course it matters. Or at least we sure want to think so. But how can you know for certain?

Anyone involved with communities over a period of time will sooner or later come face to face with a major plant closing or business failure that puts a relatively large number of people out of work. I use the term ‘relatively’ with a bit of trepidation because to the individuals affected, even the loss of one job (theirs) is a traumatic experience and we should never lose sight of that fact.

But it’s at times when large numbers are affected that agencies and communities really seem to come together. My personal experience with a situation like this came in 1996 when I was Executive Director of the Grant County Economic Development Corporation. On February 8th of that year we received notice that one of our largest employers, Advance Transformer located in Platteville, was closing its doors within six months and resulting in the permanent loss of 620 good manufacturing jobs.

We did everything you might expect in dealing with the closure but did our efforts really have an impact?

About a year ago leaders at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College called some of those representing agencies involved back then to discuss doing a survey of the affected workers as the 10th anniversary of the event approached. Where were they today? Did they recover? Did our efforts to help them make a difference? We went ahead with the survey and were able to contact almost all of the 620 affected workers. We were overwhelmed with the response as over half of them took the time to not only complete the rather extensive survey, but they also provided personal comments that would fill 26 single-spaced typewritten pages in the final report.

We just officially released the report yesterday at a press conference at Southwest Tech in Fennimore. Did our efforts matter? I invite you to read the full report and draw your own conclusions. Follow these links to the Executive Summary and the Full Report which are online in pdf format.

In case you’re wondering, the answer was, “Yes.” Working on this survey and the resulting report was a graphic reminder of the difference we can, and MUST, make as we work together to help each individual dealing with the loss of their job.