Using the privileges

Published 10:20 am Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Eighth in a series

FRANKLIN—Since 2005, Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. has been a member of Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance.

Membership has its privileges.

As FSEDI looks to bring jobs and foster economic growth in the two communities it serves, the organization is using its membership in the alliance to take advantage of its research capabilities and marketing power at both the national and international level.

“Overall we are very pleased with the marketing activity and research efforts and that HREDA provides our organization and our jurisdictions,” FSEDI president and Chief Executive Officer John Smolak said in a written statement on Tuesday. “By participating in a regional organization, our jurisdictions receive the maximum marketing exposure possible.”

According to the alliance’s 2009 Annual Report, the organization put on 18 marketing missions designed to attract specialized companies or industries. Smolak said the alliance typically plans around 20 missions a year and FSEDI participates in about six to eight.

“FSEDI is at the table when we have all 15 jurisdictions planning the next year’s marketing schedule and reviewing last year’s schedule for effectiveness,” Smolak said.

The jurisdictions in the alliance are Franklin, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg; and Southampton, Isle of Wight, Gloucester, York and James City counties.

Smolak said since FSEDI was a public-private partnership, membership in the alliance was calculated at a rate of $2-per-person and is based on the jurisdictional population. FSEDI spent $54,000 for membership last year.

“HREDA markets the region through different media, such as print media, their website, special marketing brochures or direct mail to prospective companies or site location consultants,” Smolak said. “FSEDI receives maximum marketing exposure that we could not financially afford by trying to do this type of marketing as a separate jurisdiction.”

Before FSEDI was formed, both Franklin and Southampton attempted to do economic development on their own with limited success. When the city and county partnered together in 2005, Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson was one of several local officials who urged the alliance to let FSEDI join. The bid was successful.

“In today’s global economy, we’re not the competition,” Johnson said at the time. “It’s not Franklin-Southampton vs. Isle of Wight, or Chesapeake, or James City. It’s Hampton Roads vs. New York and Charleston, and hundreds of other communities up and down the east coast and perhaps thousands of others that we may have never heard of across the globe in Europe, Asia and Latin America.”

Smolak said firms looking to locate in Virginia will usually contact a regional group like the alliance or the organization at the state level — in this case the Virginia Economic Development Partnership — during the research and due diligence process.

“HREDA’s staff is quite professional and fair as they respond to specific inquiries for new investment opportunities,” Smolak said.

He added that although the national economy has been poor since late 2007, membership in the alliance was a good investment.

“HREDA has done a good job of providing as many qualified prospect leads as possible,” Smolak said. “Not all of those prospect leads are necessarily going to consider Franklin or Southampton based on their individual site location criteria. But they will if our communities have an industrial park, a site, a building or other specific criteria that are of interest or meet their requirements.”