Perceptions And Realities

November 10, 2003
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For the second year in a row, Site Selection magazine has named Michigan as having the second-best business climate in the United States.

And, for the second year in a row, state officials are pretty excited about the listing.

“This is good news for Michigan,” Gov. JenniferGranholm said of the ranking in the magazine’s November issue. “We’ll be working hard to ensure that our reputation translates into actual jobs for Michigan citizens. The innovative economic development tools that we have in our arsenal continue to be effective in making Michigan a magnet for opportunity.”

But is Michigan’s reputation as solid as it appears to be?

According to MarkArend, editor of Site Selection, the magazine actually produces two lists. The first, on which Michigan occupies the No. 2 slot, measures new and expanded business facility activity on a state-by-state basis. The second list is called an “executive survey business climate ranking,” which is based on how corporate decision-makers respond to this question: “Based upon your experience, what are the top 10 state business climates, taking into consideration such factors as lack of red tape, financial assistance and government officials’ cooperation?”

Despite Michigan’s lofty ranking in the business climate survey, it’s nowhere to be found among the top 10 in the executive survey.

Conversely, seven of the top 10 in the business climate survey also landed among the 10 best in the executive survey.

What’s up?

A bad geographical rap, that’s what.

In the business climate survey, Ohio ranks fourth and Illinois comes in at No. 8. The rest of the ranked states are from the south: North Carolina (1); Tennessee (3); Virginia (5); Texas (6); Georgia (7); South Carolina (9) and Florida (10). Those seven states also show up in the executive survey, in varying positions, along with Alabama, Nevada and Arizona.

Where’s the Midwest? Well, according to executive decision makers, it’s nowhere when it comes to development.

Michigan actually comes in at No. 15 on the executive survey list, one spot behind Ohio and one ahead of Illinois. The rankings are available at www.siteselection.com.

In a time when perception often turns to reality, state government officials might want to target executive decision makers with positive message backed by examples of solid results because, eventually, the development pipeline will run dry if executives don’t perceive the state as having a friendly business climate.

**So, how does this get done? By using results from another magazine, of course.

Expo Management magazine recently named Grand Rapids one of the 15 fastest-growing convention cities in the nation. The city was one of 11 new entries to the list, which also featured perennial favorites Dallas and Chicago.

The article in the national trade publication called GR a “small city with big ambitions” and highlighted the new DeVos Place convention center as being large and connected to a 12,000-seat arena and 1,000 hotel rooms. The piece, penned by PatriciaSherman, noted that the city had “natural appeal for regional groups.”

“We’re doing outreach through our state and regional associations, and we’re sponsoring site visits and even bringing in whole selection committees at our expense,” said GeorgeHelmstead, vice president of sales for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, in the Expo article.

Besides GR, Dallas and Chicago, the other cities named were Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York, Palm Beach County in Florida, St. Louis, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

As of the end of last month, Helmstead said nearly 90 groups had booked tradeshows at the new DeVos Place. Nineteen of those are national associations, while eight will exceed 1,000 rooms a night.

The exhibit space at the new $212 million convention center will open on Dec. 4 with the Midwest Industrial Woodworking Expo. The Grand Action Committee will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony there on Dec. 3, with a public open house set for Dec. 20.

**Another way to get the attention of decision-makers is to earn the city a “hipper” image (see story, page 3).

That’s why the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan recently sent Granholm a letter offering to be part of the “Cool Cities Initiative.”

“We started programming specifically for your professionals in their 20s and 30s four years ago,” said DixieAnderson, executive director. “There just wasn’t any place to go in town if you wanted to meet other people your age interested in international events. The International Contemporaries programming — while global in scope and educational — is lighter in content than our normal programming. This makes it more conducive to socializing and networking — something this group is interested in doing.”

MarciMuller, associate director of the council and the staff support person for the International Contemporaries Committee, said the council had to do something of this nature to attract a more diverse crowd.

“Many world affairs councils around the country have started International Contemporaries programming in their local areas,” she said. “It’s a whole new demographic for most councils, as we don’t typically attract that age group to our regular programming. We’ve noticed, though, that many IC members do attend our regular events now as well.”

So what’s the key to attracting a younger and more diverse crowd? Give them what they want, Muller said.

She said the council’s first IC event was an international progressive dinner at four downtown restaurants. The most popular event for that set is the WorldQuest International Trivia Game at Aquinas College (set for May 11, 2004), which routinely draws 20 to 25 teams and 150 to 200 spectators. Last week’s Sushi 101 class at a local Japanese restaurant was a sellout and a wine-tasting event on Nov. 21 probably will be too.

Give them what they want, when they want it. Hmm, what a cool concept.    

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