Designed to bring familiarization of Minnesota and communities across the state, including Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar, to site selectors nationwide, the 2018 Minnesota Site Selectors FAM Tour may have been the most effective tour in the four years I have been a part of this organization.
Past FAM Tours
In 2015, the FAM Tour included one site selector, Linda Burns, coming to Willmar for one day to tour the area and visit with business leaders. During the other three days that Ms. Burns was in Minnesota, she spent one day in Windom making similar contacts and two days in Minneapolis with several other site selectors and economic development leaders from across the state. The 2015 tour afforded time to showcase what our community has to offer on a one-to-one basis with one site selector. At events in Minneapolis, including a Twins baseball game, we were given the opportunity to speak with other site selectors.
The 2017 FAM Tour was arranged differently. Site selectors came and stayed in Minneapolis. Economic development representatives (EDs) from across the state went to Minneapolis for the three-day tour to meet with the visitors and tour metro-area businesses alongside the site selectors. Welcoming events and a Twins baseball game offered an opportunity to talk one-to-one with the site selectors who were in attendance.
2018 – The Best Year Yet
The 2018 FAM Tour featured yet another way to meet with site selectors. This year, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) staff and economic development leaders from across Minnesota, 23 in total, went as a group to Chicago, Illinois, to meet with site selectors at their business locations. I went to represent Willmar and Kandiyohi County with funding in the amount of $1,000 from SWIF to support my efforts. All Minnesota EDs were allowed to send a PDF document about the opportunities in our community to the event planners to put together on a flash drive and provide to the site selectors. We were asked to bring only one handout or flyer along and that it should work to build interest in a specific site. I brought along our Industrial Park flyer and tucked the MinnWest Technology Campus flyer in my luggage just in case.
The 23 participants were given appointment assignments in teams of 3 to 5 people, each assignment with changing membership. Each team included a DEED staff member. Altogether, 17 business visits were conducted by the teams. Some of the EDs set up independent visits in addition. Each appointment included a presentation of Minnesota as a state and roundtable time for each community representative to share about local opportunities for new or expanding businesses. The site selectors generally gave information about the kind of businesses they typically assist, giving an opportunity to speak directly about similar industries in our areas.
While debriefing each afternoon, team members reported on comments received from the site selectors. Generally, the site selectors complimented our work to market the state together, as the Minnesota Marketing Partnership. They expressed gratitude for our coming to Chicago, requiring only an hour of their valuable time to meet and allowing that hour to focus completely on the information we provided. Some shared that they see little in marketing of the state of Minnesota, validating the FAM tour process in Chicago at this time.
I attended meetings as follows:
Joe Pilewski – Pilewski and Associates: High interest in steel and fabrication. He enjoyed hearing about the latest expansion at West Central Steel (WCS). He said he hopes to retire to northern Minnesota as he loves the state and the north woods. His daughter has the University of Minnesota on the top of her list of colleges to attend. He mentioned a need for a plug-and-play call center facility. I sent him a flyer about the former Kandiyohi Power Cooperative building and my v-card when I returned, and invited him for a tour of our area, specifically the West Central Steel facility.
Rachel Gradner – CBRE: Located on the 16th story in a newly-renovated office complex overlooking the Chicago River with views of Lake Michigan. CBRE often has ten or more projects in different planning stages in Minnesota at any given time. One project is presently in Willmar. Ms. Gradner asked a great deal about workforce and special projects that are utilized to recruit and retain the workforce in the state and at local communities. I spoke of our KCEO program, the Ridgewater College Customized Training & Continuing Education program, CLUES and the recent Hospitality Training program presented by the Willmar Workforce Center and Central Minnesota Jobs & Training Services.
My third agency appointment with a team of four was with Tracey Bosman, Managing Director and Kyle Syers, Senior Consultant of Biggins Lacy Shapiro, a location economics consultant agency housed in a co-working business park in downtown Chicago. This agency works closely with data centers, manufacturing companies and much more. Tracey and Kyle appreciated our coming to their office and the materials and information we presented. They were interested in the food processing businesses and industrial parks in rural Minnesota. They were familiar with our Certified Shovel Ready site listings.
In addition to team meetings, a Thursday luncheon at Harry Caray’s Steakhouse was arranged to meet with international representatives working to connect global partners with business opportunities in the United States. I sat by representatives from Germany and Israel. Gerrit Ahlers of the German American Chamber of Commerce told me that German companies look for opportunities to buy large companies in the United States. Kirsten Gustafson, of the same agency, is interested in the agriculture base in rural Minnesota. She referred me to an international discussion platform to stay on top of global agriculture issues.
The 2018 FAM Tour did not leave out the Twins game mixer. On my first night in Chicago, the entire group of 23 EDs plus several Chicago agency representatives gathered in a suite at the Guaranteed Rate Stadium to watch the Twins and White Sox game. It was a mix of cheers as in the last inning, the Twins finally broke a tied score with three last-minute runs for a final score of Twins – 5 and White Sox – 2. The game provided an opportunity to talk informally with site selectors representing Chicago-based agencies who were in attendance.
The contacts I made with significant site selection/business advisors were an important avenue to bring attention to what Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar have to offer to new or expanding businesses. I appreciated the opportunity to represent the EDC in Chicago for the 2018 FAM Tour!
Business Development Specialist
Kandiyohi County & City of Willmar EDC