October 25, 2012
Martinsville and Henry County will be showcased this weekend to eight economic development consultants in the area today through Monday, according to Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp.
Before explaining the role consultants have in economic development, Heath said “there is a misconception that the EDC makes cold calls or business calls directly to companies.”
While that is one way contact is made — for example, “if we find a company has expansion plans,” Heath said, the majority of company leads are from consultants, which he described as “third party gatekeepers.”
The consultants may “have the big CPA firms” and/or may be a national real estate group, he said.
Regardless of their area of expertise, consultants “are the ones that companies now go to initially” and consultants then help companies “find the best place for their future (business) plans,” Heath said.
To educate consultants on the amenities this area has to offer, Heath said the EDC undertakes extensive marketing efforts, including bringing consultants here.
“We try to educate them on things like the quality of life, the labor force,” infrastructure and other areas of interest, Heath said.
That is done in hopes that when a consultant has a client with needs Martinsville and Henry County can meet, the consultant will remember the area, and steer their client here, he said.
“A consultant is not going to bring a client somewhere” that they do not feel comfortable, where their client’s needs would not be met or where their clients would not be treated professionally, Heath said.
Consultants “get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the last thing they want to do is look bad in front of their client,” he added.
Heath said his work is about building relationships.
Many of the consultants he now works with are those he has known and cultivated relationships with for 20 to 25 years, he said.
“We tell them the truth and give them factual information. If we cant meet their needs, we will be honest about that. The last thing we need to do is” have consultant “bring a client here and we can’t meet their needs,” Heath said. “If that happens, we will never see them again.”
He noted there are multiple options for companies looking to locate, and consultants will recommend areas “where they know their clients will be treated well,” Heath said.
At least monthly, Heath said he and other EDC staff members travel to visit consultants in one area or another, from the west coast, south to Atlanta, Ga., north to New York, Washington D.C., in short “everywhere. We go where they are.”
One of the things a consultant wants are visits from local economic developers, “because they want to know who they are dealing with,” he said.
While calling on consultants, Heath said “we are marketing our area to them.”
Two or three times each year, “we actually bring consultants here for a two or three day period to review our program” and point out strengths as well as weaknesses, Heath said. Consultants are “an integral part of our marketing” because they are the ones that are driving the location process of economic development.”
Consultants, Heath said “have always been involved. This is not a new a new phenomenon, but in the last 10 years — and particularly in the last four or five years when it has become so competitive,” consultants are playing an increased role in economic development.
“Consultants are the lifeblood of economic development,” Heath said, and added that “this is certainly a weekend that this community will be showcased and shown off.”
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