Chamber stays course with new economic development approach

2013-07-07T04:30:00Z 2013-07-07T23:14:11Z Chamber stays course with new economic development approachJennifer DeWitt jdewitt@qctimes.com The Quad-City Times

As Quad-Cities First faces a transition with the departure of its leader, chamber executives say they think the regional economic development model is working and have seen convincing results. 

Daniel Mann, the vice president of Quad-Cities First — the economic development marketing and sales arm of the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce — recently resigned to take a position in southeast Kansas. On July 15, he will become the CEO of Great Plains Development Authority, which is leading redevelopment of the former Kansas Army Ammunition Plant. His last day at the chamber is July 12.

"We want to succeed Daniel with someone who is a great sales leader," chamber CEO Tara Barney said. "Daniel was excellent. He was here to sell."

In a previous interview with the Quad-City Times, Mann said how pleased he was to be involved at the launch of Quad-Cities First. He counts creating a new regional marketing model and achieving buy-in from the public and private sector among his biggest accomplishments.

Formed in 2009, Quad-City First was the entity that succeeded the former Quad-City Development Group. Originally under the co-direction of the former Illinois Quad-City and Iowa Quad-Cities chambers, it became a function of the Quad-Cities Chamber when those organizations merged in September 2010. 

"A model where economic development is blended with the chamber is the best, most efficient model," said Bill Martin, the chamber's senior vice president of economic development.

A single, regional chamber gives companies — existing and prospective ones — "one set of trusted partners," Tara Barney added.

"We didn't have a conscious blend between business attraction and business retention before,'' she said.

'Model was fractured'

Under the previous arrangement with multiple chambers, a separate development group, various city development staffs and other development-minded efforts, she said a company such as Alcoa Davenport Works might have been supported by the Bettendorf Chamber and its needs and plans might not filter out.

"The model was fractured," she said. "Now we have the same professional leadership who are thinking about Alcoa as an existing business and for what opportunities for growth there are."

Paul Rumler, the chamber's executive vice president, recalled how meetings with prospects could be overwhelming for them with three chambers, various city staff and other economic development partners all in attendance.

"But now we are there to meet the client's needs," he said. "Now it's not about internal politics." 

Barney added that the model is being well received by area businesses and prospects alike.

In the past year, the chamber's membership and retention is up, and Quad-Cities First's business attraction and regional marketing activities have nearly doubled. The chamber reports it has held 126 ribbons cuttings that have represented $200 million investment and 1,090 new jobs. Site selector visits in fiscal 2013 rose to 65 from 32 in the previous year, while external company visits reached 112 compared to 72 in the same period. Since July 2010, the chamber has completed 26 economic development projects, which have generated 3,079 new and retained jobs. They have included Alcoa, Americold, APAC, Schebler Co. and Crawford Co.

Chamber officials said those results are the product of Quad-Cities First's new approach to economic development, which is advancing the chamber's goal of 5,000 jobs.

Repositioning the area

Mann had been the first outside sales executive in years, if not forever, focused on selling the Quad-Cities outside the region, Barney said. During his 3 1/2-year tenure, he made one-on-one visits to prospective companies, identified which companies to pursue and developed a marketing plan — the centerpiece of which was a new web site promoting the area as a region.

"Daniel was our first tangible move into repositioning the way we attract economic development to the Quad-Cities," said Carmen Darland, a Quad-Cities First board member since its inception. The executive director of Quad-City Arts, she represents the nonprofit sector. "He literally put the Quad-Cities on the map with people on the national level that do site selection. He was able to hook our region into the pipeline with the people out there looking for land and sites."

With his outsider perspective, she said, "Daniel proved we can overcome people's inability to define us. We define ourselves as Quad-Cities, but the rest of the world didn't do that or understand it."

In fact, she and others think the Quad-Cities is finally being recognized as a region and not its individual parts.

Deere & Co.'s Bill Becker, who just completed his two-year term as Quad-Cities First chair, said the consolidation of the chambers itself helped stimulate the regional mentality.

"There is the feeling that there is power as a team that we have now and didn't have as much of before," he said.

Becker, Deere's global brand management director, said he hopes Mann's replacement also is strong in sales.

"What's more important is the great story our area has to tell," he said, adding that message is beginning to spread to site selectors and companies across North America.

Attracting companies

Rumler said the chamber has come to believe the best leads are self-generated ones.

"In the past, we looked at trade shows as where leads are generated," he said.

Now the staff finds leads on its own through the one-on-one contacts and from its new, robust website.

"That's home base," he said of the new site.

In another shift in its marketing, Barney said gone are the days of cold calling.

"We're going to find companies that have indicated they want to expand, want a Midwest location and would benefit from our logistics network," she said.

Focused on its target industries, including advanced manufacturing, logistics and defense, she said they no longer chase a spectrum of companies.  

"In the economic development world, you can touch 1,000 companies up to four times to get 10 appointments," Martin said. "This is a business you hear 'no' a lot."

Bringing the business attraction and retention roles in sync also has helped the chamber keep closer tabs on existing businesses looking to expand, identifying the various business needs as well as what other companies could be recruited as suppliers. The effort also has energized Quad-City companies to participate, Barney said.

"Everyone is on some level of economic development now," she said.

Finding key staff

But with Mann's departure, the chamber now has a key vacancy to fill to keep the momentum going. While Mann was considered the only employee of Quad-Cities First, other chamber staff devote a piece of their time to it and will pick up his duties in the meantime. But the transition comes at a time when the chamber has seen a handful of turnovers in its office staff.

Barney said the staff size actually is up in numbers after it assumed the duties of Intellectual Property Management Institute. But it now has openings in Quad-Cities First and for a graphic designer.

"Unfortunately, we're not big enough that we provide a career path for all our people," Barney said.

In the small economic development industry, she said, professionals are often being sought after and "word is already out" about Mann's departure among those in the business.

"When you have young talented people, they are bound to get a lot of opportunities," Rumler said, describing the staff changes as a "natural rate of turnover."

Martin said the first task in conducting what will be a national search to replace Mann is to develop a new job description for the position.

In the interim, he said, "We will have to have a good handle on how to redeploy our resources."

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