Quality of Place Leads to Quality Returns
06 Nov, 2012
By Mark Kleszczewski
Modern infrastructure, access to markets and raw materials, favorable land and labor costs, business and tax climate and many other tangible variables have always been at top of mind when making site selection decisions. Yet advances in technology and a changing workforce are transcending geography and turning quality of place into a competitive advantage for expanding and relocating companies alike.
“Economic development will continue to grow in complexity as technological gains impact productivity, more foreign countries position themselves to compete and the demand for a high knowledge-based workforce continues to trend upward,” notes the Arkansas State University Delta Center for Economic Development in a 2009 study.
Despite an uneven economic recovery, continued growth in high-tech manufacturing, renewable energy, biosciences and other knowledge-based industries is especially stepping up demand for quality people with the right skills in the right place.
Communities across the country looking to capture new investment and attract talent can put the “live-work-play” concept into action by focusing on the attributes that make their place unique, authentic and livable for a wide range of workers. Quality of place investments can result in immediate returns, though they pay the highest dividends when developed as an economic asset benefiting not only current residents, but possible future ones as well.
Long-Term Investments Pay Off
In the case of Oklahoma City, such a long-term strategy was critical in transforming the city into the desirable business destination it is today.
“We didn’t invent the concept of quality of place, but we certainly capitalized on it,” says Mick Cornett, mayor, Oklahoma City. “We looked at the paradigm shift that people weren’t just following jobs anymore, but that jobs were following people. So what we’ve done over the last 20 years is create a city where people want to live. The pitch to the voters for our Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) was that even if no one ever visits or comes here to create a job, it’ll at least be a better place for us.”
Supported by several rounds of unique bond and tax initiatives, the city’s capital improvement program — along with a four-year downtown redesign in progress called Project 180 — includes a new 70-acre downtown park, convention center, modern transit, miles of biking and walking trails, improvements to the Oklahoma River and State Fairgrounds and several senior health and wellness centers. Upgrading schools and garnering an NBA team was another outgrowth of the process that put the city on the national map.
“It’s completely changed the quality of life here and the image of the city,” says Roy Williams, president and CEO, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “Companies tell us that had we not changed Oklahoma City from what it was 20 years ago, their moves here would not have happened. They credit the emphasis on quality of place on their location decision and their ability to recruit employees. The fact that all these projects have also leveraged public dollars into huge private investments, proves that we now have a product that people are willing to buy.”
Some communities are taking a fresh look at their existing assets and building a sense of place where people of all incomes and ages can live, work and play.
For example, Peoria, Ariz., spring training home of the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, is planning an Entertainment District Improvement Project, branded as “P83” and the Osage West LLC Mixed-Use Redevelopment Project, which would transform the Peoria Sports Complex District into a destination-oriented and pedestrian-focused environment.
“We had good bones to build with, but didn’t have a sense of continuity and pedestrian orientation of connectivity that sparks the feeling you get when you enter a real special-purpose district,” says Scott Whyte, director of economic development services, city of Peoria. “Quality of place may not trump primary factors like business climate or access to supply chains, but especially with a relocation, today’s CEO looking at a market is also going to say, ‘I want to make sure that my workers see this location as a place where they want to live.’ That’s why we took a hard look at our existing entertainment district and pushed to create a place that meets the needs of today’s 21st century workforce.”
Right Place, Right Results
The desire for a quality place isn’t limited to knowledge workers or members of what some experts have termed the “creative class.” It can also be a deciding factor for manufacturers of hard goods with employees at all income levels.
“Quality of place can mean everything from cost-efficient living to access to amenities and entertainment, but we were pretty discerning when we decided to relocate since our criteria applied to the entire strata of our employees, not just the salaried professionals,” says Sue Rechner, president and CEO, Confluence Watersports. “We had years of institutional knowledge that we didn’t want to lose, so the number one factor was being in a place where employees could raise a family and have access to the same kinds of things they had before the move.”
Rechner’s company, which manufactures and markets kayaks, canoes and paddle sports accessories, not only consolidated operations in Greenville, S.C., to enable significant cost savings and support an aggressive growth plan, it used the relocation to help achieve the important goal of providing a better quality of work life for its employees.
“Our move created some efficiencies that are intangible and probably not measurable, but I will say it’s changed the culture of the company,” Rechner explains. “We’re more communicative face-to-face and that’s a very positive thing. Furthermore, she notes, recreation in our industry is incredibly important since we employ a lot of people who actually do in their off hours what they work on during the day. There’s a lot of attention paid to recreation infrastructure here, so it’s worked out very well.”
Building Communities Builds Companies
In Utah, where outdoor and recreation companies can develop their products literally outside their doorstep, an emphasis on place and the creation of a specialized industry cluster is making the state one of the country’s premier live-work-play destinations.
“People especially in the outdoor business like what they see and like living here,” says Riley Cutler, director of the outdoor products and recreation cluster, Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “They like the friendliness and the environment, but whether it’s skiing, bicycling boating or climbing, companies like Salomon, Rossignol, Black Diamond, Petzl, Specialized Bicycle and many others are also here because it’s a great place for them to design and test their products.”
In addition to hosting the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show, Cutler continues, most of the venues from the 2002 Winter Olympics are still up and running and in great shape, adding to an already diverse base of cultural, recreational and entertainment activities.
“The mountains were a huge draw for what we were going to do,” adds Mike Adams, vice president of winter sports equipment, Amer Sports Winter & Outdoor Americas, whose company consolidated its Salomon, Atomic and Suunto brands in Ogden. “Being close to not only important events and venues but also to the consumers who are the core of our sports really helps us. Having a cluster of companies like ours in Utah is also great for promoting the company and energizing employees.”
Taking Advantage Of The Intangible
To compete successfully in the age of globalized talent, communities and companies are realizing that quality of place is more than simply having green spaces, good schools or new facilities. For today’s younger workers in particular, a true live-work-play destination offers the ability to pursue fulfilling work and a lifestyle characterized by a wide range of interests, with outdoor recreation, “on-demand” entertainment and “easy to get to” activities ranking high on the list.
“We’ve been able to convince retired suburbanites — who are most likely to vote — that their quality of life is directly related to the vitality of the core of the city, so they should support downtown,” Cornett says. “You can’t be a suburb of nothing. Thanks to our citizens who’ve learned to be patient with the pay-as-you-go MAPS concept, we’ve gotten especially good at attracting highly-educated, twenty-somethings who have a lot of choices. That’s a tremendous turnaround from a human capital standpoint.”
“With unbeatable winter and summer access to the outdoor space in this location, we’re able to attract employees who are really into the sports that we do,” Adams says. “Plus, what’s great here is that growth isn’t a one shot deal — it’s ongoing. We’ve got a really vibrant, active outdoor community here that’s always renewing itself. That’s a huge advantage.”
Mark Kleszczewski is president and CEO of GoBusiness Group LLC and a freelance writer on critical business topics. He can be reached at email@example.com.
For complete details on the organizations featured in this article, visit:
Amer Sports Winter & Outdoor Americas
City of Oklahoma City
City of Peoria (Ariz.) Entertainment District
Greater Oklahoma City Chamber
Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development