NWA Aims Message At Site Selectors

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Mar. 24, 2014 12:00 am  

Mike Harvey, COO of the Northwest Arkansas Council: “It’s hard to field fly balls without a glove. Companies don’t shop by city; they shop by region.” (Photo by Beth Hall)

Mike Harvey knew next to nothing about northwest Arkansas before he took a job as COO of the Northwest Arkansas Council in 2011.

Now Harvey is leading an aggressive campaign to change the fact that northwest Arkansas is still a “blank slate” to the site selectors who could be important to the region’s economic development future.

Harvey visited with about 50 site selectors in 2013 and plans to bring in groups of three to five selectors at a time later this year for guided tours of the area.

The so-called “fam tours” — short for familiarization — would give selectors a chance to meet with city leaders and chamber members as well as get a ground’s-eye view of the region’s infrastructure and cultural hotspots. Harvey said he plans to focus on selectors from Chicago and Dallas initially and then Atlanta and New York City because most of the area’s outside investment originates from those areas.

The project, part of a plan the council put together after Harvey started in August 2011, stems from survey results by Development Counsellors International. DCI polled more than 80 site selectors about their knowledge and perceptions of northwest Arkansas, and the results were striking.

“Half of them didn’t know anything about us,” Harvey said. “They knew Bentonville and Wal-Mart. We were a little bit surprised, and a little bit glad we were a blank slate.”

Harvey is fond of the term “blank slate” and it is a clear example of his optimism regarding the council’s determination to improve the region’s economic profile. In the realm of site selection, though, a lack of awareness can be a death blow for hopes of outside investment.

Harvey said northwest Arkansas gets most of its investment and business expansion from internal sources — “We’re a very organic market,” Harvey said — but bringing in outside business is vital, too. To bring in outside capital and job creators, the region had little choice but to improve its marketing to site selectors.

In today’s economic environment, some companies decide where to locate new factories or headquarters or production lines through the use of in-house resources. Increasingly, though, companies use third-party site selectors to do the hard-data research and on-site scouting to determine where investment money and jobs will go.

If those selectors don’t have northwest Arkansas on their radar, then those jobs have no chance of making their way to the region.

“If half of them don’t know who we were, then yeah, we need to do this,” Harvey said. “It’s hard to field fly balls without a glove. Companies don’t shop by city; they shop by region.”

The cities in the council area have been busy on their level. Steve Clark, the president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, said he has brought in individual selectors for quick 24-hour tours to highlight the city’s strengths and leaders.



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