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January 29, 2019

Research Professionals Discuss How Communities Can Prepare for Large Economic Development Requests

With international companies such as Amazon changing the traditional approach to locating new or expanded operations, it has become more important than ever for cities and communities to be prepared for formal requests for information (RFIs) that can take multiple forms. The Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) welcomed a panel of economic research experts to discuss RFI trends during a recent Economic Development Marketing Council meeting.

“We constantly challenge ourselves [on the Chamber’s Economic Development team] to be more available to our partners and to be open to new ideas as we all work to market the region,” said MAC Economic Development Vice President Gregg Simon.

Moderated by Simon, the research fireside chat featured Georgia Department of Economic Development Assistant Director of Research Susan Contreras, Georgia Power Senior Research Analyst Marion Phillips and Metro Atlanta Chamber Senior Research Analyst Madi Shields.

Simon asked the group to explain what form RFIs can take and for the panelists to provide their recommendations for how communities can get ahead of the curve.

“In RFIs, the kind of information needed directly from the communities can be grouped into four areas: available sites and buildings, workforce information, the community’s business roster and ‘other,’” Contreras said. “Knowing your business community really well and being able to slice and dice the information [into subsets] is most helpful for these incoming companies.”

With these typical requests, it becomes imperative for communities to become familiar with their strengths and also weaknesses, and to be able to provide a range of metrics on multiple subjects.

Reporting on these statistics can often become an issue.

“Unionization is one of the toughest areas to work on,” Phillips said, explaining that unionization data for individual companies is difficult to find on public platforms.

With big projects like Amazon, companies are paying attention to increasing news coverage around who is being hired, especially in certain industries. Technology is one sector that has attracted criticism from the perspective of a lack of diversity. 

“Diversity, innovation and our ability to storytell – companies are starting to ask if they will be able to hire a diverse workforce at the location,” Shields said. “They want to know who is getting degrees and in what numbers.”

“We’re lucky to have the top producer of engineering degrees in the region here,” Shields added. Georgia Tech is recognized for producing a diverse and talented workforce, including holding the status of #1 school for engineering degrees award to women and African-Americans.

The landscape is shifting around protocol for RFIs, and there are also changing standards for how information is obtained by companies looking to relocate.

“Consultants are getting more savvy and doing their own research,” Phillips said. “They’re also looking at your websites. It’s always helpful to have important demographics and other metrics easily available on your sites.”

In the end, research supports the efforts of regional marketing in positioning cities and communities as attractive places for businesses to locate. With input from partners throughout the region, the Chamber created the ATL Brand Box – a digital resource for anyone looking to tell metro Atlanta’s story with photos, videos, quotes, metrics and more. In the leadup to Super Bowl LIII with the world’s attention turned to the region, resources like the ATL Brand Box are critical in getting the message out.

 “We want to have factual information, and we also want to tell a great story,” Simon said.

The entire group emphasized the importance of reaching out for assistance on projects – no question is too small or too out of the ordinary.

“Our motto is ‘challenge accepted,’” Phillips said.

For more information on the metro Atlanta region, including lists of top employers, recent company announcements and cost of living resources, visit: https://www.metroatlantachamber.com/resources/reports-and-information

For more information on the MAC Economic Development Marketing Council and to get involved, email Gregg Simon

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