By ALAN J. ORTBALS
Council marketing area’s availability for business
After spending a year selling Southwestern Illinois to the home folks, the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois is taking its show on the road.
Members made a presentation to the top brass of the Union Pacific Railroad last month at its headquarters in Omaha, Neb., and Executive Director Ronda Sauget made the same presentation to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s international team at a recent luncheon.
“DCEO has translated it into at least nine languages,” Sauget said, “and their international reps will be out there talking to their clients from Asia to Europe to South America and making our presentation.”
The impetus for the new, aggressive, marketing campaign is the pending completion of the 10-year effort to restore the American Bottom levee system with Federal Emergency Management Agency accreditation expected later this year.
“Ten years ago, we were just struggling to get the levees repaired and accreditation restored,” Sauget said. “Who would have ever thought that it would turn out to be a strategic benefit for us? But, many of the communities along the river from Minneapolis to New Orleans are going to have to deal with the same challenges with their levees that we had to face with ours. They’re going to have to figure that out. So, while they’re figuring it out, that puts us in a supreme position in terms of attracting companies that had once written us off. We have conquered that challenge and we’re open for business.”
The Southwestern Illinois story is an impressive one, says Sauget. It’s the second-largest population center in Illinois with nearly 700,000 residents, a quarter of the St. Louis MSA. It’s home to many large domestic and international manufacturing, logistics and agricultural companies like General Dynamics, Kraft and World Wide Technologies. Scott Air Force Base is not only the metro area’s fifth-largest employer but has grown 40 percent in the last decade and has an annual economic impact of more than $3 billion. The area is positioned for business development, focusing on its unique position and transportation infrastructure to promote the development and expansion of advanced and light manufacturing, chemical industry and medical processing, agriculture/food processing, logistics, multi-modal transportation, and cyber security, GIS, defense contracting and STEM. SAFB’s strength in cyber technology has been leveraged to create the Midwest Cyber Center of Excellence. Its mission: to collaborate with St. Louis regional partners to provide cybersecurity capabilities and a cyber-ready workforce to meet the region’s growing cybersecurity needs. And, the Leadership Council is teaming with educators to promote careers in the skilled trades and advanced manufacturing to create a ready workforce.
Sauget is in the process of collecting success stories and information on available sites. She said the presentation to the Union Pacific brass is part of a strategy to carry out supply chain partner marketing with companies that are already here.
“For a long time, people had written us off and said, ‘Well, they’ve got this levee issue and that negates them’,” Sauget said. “So, we’re going to start there, and then we’re going to go to the other multi-modal modes from river, road and air and talk to them about the same types of activities.”
Later this month, the Leadership Council will be teaming up with DCEO and the St. Louis Regional Chamber to take their show to Chicago. DCEO is taking the lead on arranging meetings with decision makers in economic development, commercial and industrial real estate and site selection.
“We’ll also be calling on the international embassies that are in Chicago — of which there are a lot,” Sauget said, so when business people from their countries come to them with an interest to invest in the United States, we’re one of their top-of-mind places.”
Dates have not been set but Sauget said they are planning to follow up the Chicago trip with excursions to Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and New York. Sauget said that they are hoping to expand their presentation group beyond DCEO and the Chamber to include local business people. Thought is being given to tailoring the group to fit the target audience. For example, when they go to Houston, which is a very energy driven area, they may ask representatives of local energy companies to join in the presentation.
“We’re really excited about the assets that we have and driving those hard to continue to create investment and job growth within our area,” said Sauget. “We’re using a forward/backward integration strategy from a strategic management point of view so we’re looking at who’s here, who’s not here, who would we like to be here and focusing on each of the industry sectors for the different power zones from agricultural to energy to light manufacturing and so forth. So, I think it’s a much more methodical, intelligence driven approach to marketing. We’re really excited about that.”