The Guilford County Economic Development Alliance (GCEDA) closed out its year with a very upbeat breakfast meeting at Grandover Resort on Friday, Dec. 15, where the group kicked off a new marketing campaign, welcomed new members and sent some former members packing – all while visions of a Toyota-Mazda car plant, rather than sugarplums, danced in their heads.
Alliance members were in a good mood because unemployment in Guilford County is down, the stock market is up, and the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite just south of Guilford County is a strong finalist for the giant Toyota-Mazda car plant project that area economic development officials are hoping for. Economic development officials call nearly every new project a “game changer,” but this one truly would be.
Toward the end of the meeting, the GCEDA Leadership Group – the core group of elected and economic development officials – went into closed session for the purpose of “discussing the location/expansion of business and industry” (read: the Toyota-Mazda project).
In the open session, Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips, who was recently replaced as chairman of the Board of Commissioners, and therefore will not be serving on the GCEDA board in 2018, said in his departing words that it was now more important than ever for everyone to work together to bring projects to the area.
In recent months, there has been a great deal of tension between Guilford County and the City of High Point over the question of whether the county should help fund High Point’s new downtown baseball stadium expected to open in 2019.
Three months ago, that battle flared up at a GCEDA meeting when High Point Mayor Bill Bencini chastised Phillips and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners for not making a decision whether or not to fund the project. Phillips may have had that in mind when he said at the meeting, “It’s easy to get knocked off course,” but he added that it’s important that the people in the room provide “continuing focus to foster that atmosphere of business-friendly collaboration.”
“It is imperative that we work together to give us the opportunity that’s before us,” he said, citing the megasite project as one. He said GCEDA needs to continue to promote work force development and create a pro-business environment in Guilford County. He said the steps GCEDA had taken recently were the right ones.
Phillips also said that, as for the Guilford County commissioners, they are primed to help land the huge project.
“Our board is standing at the ready to do whatever we can do,” Phillips said.
This was the last meeting for Bencini as well as Phillips. They are being replaced by new High Point Mayor Jay Wagner and new Chairman of the Guilford Board of Commissioners Alan Branson.
Bencini also had some nice words for the group: “If you had asked me a few years ago, would we ever see the City of Greensboro take a vocal position on trying to help a High Point economic development project, with our revitalization of downtown, I would have said no way that will ever happen.”
It may be noted by some that he singled out Greensboro for praise and did not bring up Guilford County.
The meeting served as the kickoff of a new marketing campaign for Guilford County, Greensboro and High Point, meant to bring in new business from all over the country to this area. GCEDA leaders also no doubt hope the campaign will will create a positive image in the minds of Toyota and Mazda executives.
At the meeting, held at the regal Grandover rather than the usual bland conference room at the Cameron Campus of Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC) in Colfax, Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brent Christensen, a Duke University graduate, was decked out in a velvet Duke-blue jacket, which drew several amusing comments from the Carolina fans in the room. Christensen held up the marketing literature from the new “You Can Make It Here” campaign, which will be a unifying theme for the group’s business attraction efforts in 2018.
The promotional materials were hot off the press, having arrived at the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce office about 4 p.m. the day before.
“This is the start of the ‘You Can Make It Here’ campaign,” Christenson told the group at the meeting as he held up a brochure touting the benefits of Guilford County, Greensboro and High Point for companies.
“These are our collateral materials for handing out when we go on consultant visits, when we go to trade shows – and we want all of you armed with these as well because you never know who you are going to run into.”
“We’ve been working awfully hard to come up with our marketing materials,” he added.
Christensen said the website, with the same “You Can Make It Here” theme, would go live before the end of the year and said there’s a corresponding PowerPoint presentation and slide deck that will be used at conferences.
The information in the brochure Christensen held up touted that Guilford County has more manufacturing jobs – 34,000 – than any other county in the state, and it’s also fourth in the southeastern US in that regard. The brochure also shows some information graphically, such as the county’s steady population growth since 2000 and the regional workforce of 800,000 people with an average age of 36. It displays the area on a map, emphasizing the county’s central location in the state – as well as the Eastern Seaboard – and its easy access to major highways, three major airports and several ports.
The brochure also emphasizes the success of key industries already here, such as aerospace, furniture design and warehousing and distribution, and it focuses on the large number of higher learning institutions in the area.
“Through cutting edge programs in fields such as nanoscience, pharmaceuticals and engineering, our 16 colleges and universities are cultivating the leaders of tomorrow,” the copy states.
GCEDA previously estimated that it would spend about $40,000 on the new logo and marketing campaign. It hired the Greensboro-based marketing firm Bouvier Kelly for that purpose earlier this year.
In addition to the enthusiasm over the new marketing campaign, GCEDA leaders were excited that this area has been getting some notable recognition just by trying to convince Amazon to build its highly publicized new headquarters in Guilford County.
High Point Economic Development Corp. President Loren Hill, who with Christensen co-leads the GCEDA administration, said that effort was reaping benefits even if Amazon chooses to go somewhere else.
“Not only are we going after the project but we are trying to get some publicity at the same time,” Hill said, “and I would say that we got some good publicity out of it; we’ve been getting some positive attention from putting our name in.”
Others took notice of us being in the mix,” Hill said. “We weren’t just being listed as North Carolina as the top-ranked by CNBC in this hunt – but Greensboro/High Point was mentioned by name: Charlotte, Greensboro/High Point, Raleigh Durham – that wasn’t a bad list to be in.”
Trying to land the Amazon headquarters is essentially the same as a high school senior writing a letter to Megan Fox and asking her to the prom – but why not send the letter because once in a blue moon on a lark a mega starlet will say yes to that type of invitation.
Hill brought samples of newspaper and web articles on Guilford County and the surrounding area related to the Amazon quest.
The Leadership Group of the Economic Development Alliance meets monthly, but, four times a year, the meeting also includes the GCEDA Business Advisory Council, which is composed of members of the business community and workforce development leaders. Some of Advisory Council had promising news.
Scott Tilley, senior vice president and wealth management advisor at Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management, started by joking, “The stock market’s up; that’s all because of Merrill Lynch – your welcome. Your 401K balances are up.”
Tilley said that a number of years ago the economic development group Highpoint Partners merged with the High Point Chamber of Commerce to unify the business community in High Point. He said a new big initiative, “HP365,” will aid those who want to start “furniture centric business.”
Tilley said the HP365 founders weren’t ready to reveal much at this point but there would be more to say about it later.
“It’s going to be a furniture focused entrepreneurial eco-system,” Tilley said. “I can’t tell you much about it but we have raised a significant amount of money and we are going to move forward with a pretty major development that will provide a lot of opportunity to people in High Point.”