If you run a technology business or a company involved in engineering, medical devices, pharmaceuticals or financial servies, the city of Allen has you in its sights.
“We’ve really been going after the technology companies,” says Dan Bowman, interim executive director of the Allan Economic Development Corp. “We’re a natural extension of the telecom corridor north of Dallas, so we find that a lot of the work force in this area is attracted here because of the educational opportunities. Our school district is ranked very highly, and we tend to attract families that are engineering- and technology-oriented.
“Also, we have a lot of medical device and defense-related companies. We’ve been going after pharmaceutical companies and businesses in the financial services sector, as well as information technology and software engineers.”
Asked what factors a company should weigh if it’s considering moving to North Texas, Bowman cited the area’s high-quality work force, its competitive real estate prices and Texas’s healthy economy.
“As you look at Allen, we have a little over three and a half million people in a 30-mile radius that can commute here, and a lot of them have skill sets that fit the types of companies we’re targeting,” Bowman says. “We have a highly educated work force. You’re not going to have to worry about whether you can attract the talent, because they’re already here.
“If you’re comparing us to the rest of the U.S., a lot of jobs are being created in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Texas in general has had a robust economy. We weren’t impacted by the mortgage crisis the way other areas were. We were the last into the recession and the first out of it.”
The aspect that most sets Allen apart for firms looking to relocate is the speed with which the city can move a company through the zoning-permitting process.
“We look at the zoning, permitting and construction process almost like the private sector does,” he says. “Government has a tendency to take a long time; there’s a lot of red tape. But when we bring in economic development projects, we fast-track them. The city puts together task forces that include the planning director and the department heads, and they’ll work weekends, evenings — as long as it takes to get the job done.”
Two recent examples of this fast-tracking were Cisco Systems and Cabela’s.
“Three and a half weeks was how long it took Cisco Systems to get the zoning for their data center a couple years ago,” Bowman says. “That’s from when they submitted their paperwork to when they got the zoning. That’s unheard of. And for our new Cabela store, it took just a little over four weeks.
“We realize time is money. We don’t sit on permits. We make sure they move forward.”
HOW TO REACH: Allen Economic Development Corp., (972) 727-0250 or www.allentx.com
Population: 84,246 (2010 Census)
Land area: 27.1 square miles
Government system: Council-manager
Mayor: Stephen Terrell
City manager: Peter H. Vargas
Phone: (214) 509-4100
The city of Roswell, Ga., is in the final stages of creating its first strategic economic development plan, with an eye toward more aggressively attracting small companies to do business within its borders.
A major component of the plan will be finetuning the list of business types the city seeks to target, says Bill Keir, Roswell’s economic development manager.
“We have a list we’re looking at that will be refined,” Keir says. “It includes health care and social assistance, technical research, consulting and corporate operations, entertainment and recreation, and local and regional data and goods distribution. And each of those categories have a number of subgroups within them. We’re going to narrow that list down, based on who we have here now, who’s been moving here, what companies are in a growth mode, those kinds of factors.”
Asked to list the characteristics of Roswell that draw small businesses, Keir cites the city’s highway accessibility, labor costs, tax exemptions, occupancy costs, construction costs, state and local incentives, crime rate, and the quality of its schools. Roswell consistently ranks high in all of those areas in surveys conducted by the trade magazines Site Selection and Area Development.
One important incentive the city offers businesses is the Roswell Opportunity Zone, a job tax credit program administered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
“We have the only Opportunity Zone program in Fulton County north of the Chattahoochee River,” Keir says. “That has been a competitive advantage for us.”
In order to become eligible for the program, a company needs to create two new jobs in a single year.
“Those jobs receive a $3,500 tax credit per job for five years,” Keir says. “We’ve had the program for a year, and we’re in it for at least another nine years. So anywhere in that period of time, if a company adds a couple of jobs or more in one year, they can get into the program and stay with it. Obviously, that can add up to significant savings.”
Roswell doesn’t have much vacant land available for development. It’s a city of small businesses, and it’s destined to remain that way. So attracting small companies will remain its focus.
“We’re fairly well developed,” Keir says. “We have a few parcels that are not fully developed, or not developed at all — but just a few.
“So that’s who we are. We have approximately 5,200 businesses. Twenty-seven of those have 100 or more employees. All the rest have less than 100. That’s normally considered small business. That’s who we cater to.”
HOW TO REACH: Roswell Economic Development Department, (770) 594-6170, www.roswellgov.com/index.aspx?nid=173
Population: 88,346 (2010 Census)
Land area: 42 square miles
Government system: Mayor-Council
Mayor: Jere Wood
City Administrator: Kay Love
Phone: (770) 641-3727
The borough of West Chester, Pa. has about 4,200 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That’s out of about 6,000 total structures in the borough.
That’s why, when looking to grow as a business destination, West Chester can’t help but brand itself around its history.
“The borough is only 1.8 square miles, but we have a great number of local landmarks that have connections to people like Abraham Lincoln and other notable folks,” says Malcolm Johnstone, executive director of the West Chester Business Improvement District. “We have a lot of historic interpretive signs that you see in a lot of towns. That’s why we’re branding West Chester as a historic destination.”
But West Chester doesn’t live in the past. The borough is in constant competition for new business with other boroughs and regions in the metro Philadelphia market. So West Chester uses its history as a means of spurring future growth.
The historical building space in West Chester’s downtown area can be, in many cases, built to suit a given business, Johnstone says, allowing business owners to house their companies in a unique environment, apart from the fluorescent-light sterility of modern office parks.
“Any space can be converted, and we do have property owners who will build to suit,” Johnstone says. “Our largest component is professional office space, so people who are looking for space that has charm and is connected to history will be able to find it.”
With a downtown area that dates to well before the invention of the automobile, West Chester has needed to get creative about how to adapt its infrastructure to include ample car parking. The borough’s leaders solved the problem with parking garages. The largest parking garage opened several years ago and can accommodate 800 vehicles. Total, the West Chester downtown area has about 3,000 parking spaces, which can accommodate daily business traffic as well as the many special events that take place in West Chester year round.
“We used to max out our parking when big events happened, and that no longer occurs,” Johnstone says.
In addition to history and an improved infrastructure, West Chester offers financial incentives for business to start or relocate to the borough. The Chester County Economic Development Council can meet with a business owner looking to start or relocate, and construct a financial package to suit their needs. In addition, grant money of up to $5,000 is available for business owners who want to make improvements to the front of a historical structure, such as awnings or signs.
“That grant is funded by the state department of community and economic development,” Johnstone says. “At the local level, our agency attracts and awards those dollars.”
Land area: 1.8 sq. mi.
Mayor: Carolyn Comitta
Phone: (610) 692-7574
Business executives searching for a corporate home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area should take a close look at Frisco, especially if they do business in one of the sectors that Frisco’s economic development team deems a good fit: technology, finance, energy or recreation.
“We’ve developed seven industry targets,” said Jim Gandy, president of the Frisco Economic Development Corp. “These include companies that are in computers and electronics, medical devices, telecommunications, software and media, financial services, entertainment and recreation, and renewable energy. Those are the types of companies we’re most interested in attracting to Frisco.”
Gandy said his group has comprehensively analyzed Frisco’s economy and demographics, and those seven sectors make the most sense in regard to the types of companies to attract to the city.
“Over the years, we’ve done numerous studies, sort of an internal audit of Frisco’s strengths and opportunities,” he said. “And when you look at all the things Frisco has to offer, from location to low cost of doing business to the availability of a knowledgeable, skilled work force, these types of companies match up really well.”
Gandy emphasized Frisco’s demographics as the key asset it provides companies doing business in the North Dallas suburb.
“Our average age is 34, and over 50 percent of our population over the age of 25 has at least a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “So our citenzry is very young and very well-educated. It’s a readily available, skilled work force.”
And that pool of workers is growing quickly: The U.S. Census Bureau ranked Frisco as the fastest-growing city in the United States for the period 2000-2009. And on top of that, Frisco has abundant undeveloped land for companies looking to build new headquarters.
“In the 2010 census, our population was about 117,000,” he said. “In 2000, it was 33,714. So from 2000 to 2010, we grew by 247 percent. And we have 72 square miles of land, of which 54 percent is still raw land, so there’s a lot of development that will occur in Frisco over the next 20 years.”
Finally, Gandy says location is always a key factor in deciding where to base a business, and Frisco offers advantages there, as well.
“It always floats to the top that we’re talking about our location,” he said. “Our ease of proximity to or from anywhere in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and our proximity to DFW Airport. Also, being located in the Central Time Zone gives you a lot of conveniences for traveling to the East Coast or West Coast, which in most cases can be a day trip — out for a meeting and back in one day.”
How to reach: Frisco Economic Development Corp., (972) 292-5000 or www.friscoedc.com
Counties: Collin and Denton
Population: 116,989 (2010 Census)
Land area: 72 square miles
Government system: Council-Manager
Mayor: Maher Maso
City Manager: George Purefoy
Auburn Hills is known to the nation as the home of The Palace of Auburn Hills, the arena where the Detroit Pistons have won three NBA titles dating to 1989. The Palace is certainly important to the city — it counts as Auburn Hills’ third-largest corporate employer.
But if you only think basketball when you think Auburn Hills, you’re selling the city short. Located in eastern Oakland County, Auburn Hills is a business hub with resources including five colleges and universities, and access to major transportation routes and facilities.
“We have a great location,” says Laurie Johnson, the city’s economic development coordinator. “We have access to M-59, I-75 and two major airports, and that’s one of the big reasons why the city is 80 percent business. Usually, a city like ours will be close to a half-and-half mix of business and residential, or lower on business, but business is what we are built on. We know business here.”
Business also thrives in Auburn Hills because of the educational support structure provided by the quintet of higher-learning institutions that operate in the city: Oakland University, Oakland Community College, and satellite campuses of Central Michigan University, Baker College and Thomas M. Cooley Law School, which have helped construct training programs used by area corporations.
The city’s government has also taken proactive steps to make it easier for businesses to start or relocate. Auburn Hills Advantage is a program that helps streamline the process of providing businesses new to the city with the resources they need. The city’s leaders also implement state tax abatement acts to drive growth.
“With Auburn Hills Advantage, what we do is bring everybody together in a meeting,
Johnson says. “We find out what exactly the business’ needs are and what needs to be done, so that when they walk away to submit their building application or site plan, it’s going to be so streamlined, they’re not going to have to come back and do things a couple of times. We’re going to walk you through it.”
The tax incentives include Michigan’s Public Act 198 and Public Act 328. Act 198 is a 50 percent abatement on property tax for a new structure or addition to an existing structure, and a 50 percent abatement on personal property taxes. Act 328, usually reserved for larger projects, is a 100 percent abatement on personal property tax.
Of course, to build, you need space, which Auburn Hills has in the form of 22 business and technology parks.
“One site was just recently purchased, and we have had two new buildings built,” Johnson says. “They broke ground in May 2010, and were up and running by that October. That gives you an idea of how fast we are, and how well we work with our businesses.”
Population: 21,400 (2010)
City manager: Peter Auger
Area: 16.6 sq. mi.
Notable businesses: Chrysler, Volkswagen/Audi, Delphi, BorgWarner, Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, The Palace of Auburn Hills
Phone: (248) 370-9400
Hundreds of years ago, towns and cities were built on rivers for the access to resources and the transportation advantages.
The river might not serve as the sole lifeblood of those towns anymore, but Matt Mittman is among those trying to prove that building in a river town still has strategic advantages.
Conshohocken, Pa., is a borough of more than 8,000 people, located in Montgomery County, on the north bank of the Schuylkill River, about 10 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Its location on the river and proximity to interstates and rail corridors make it an ideal place to start or relocate a business.
Now Mittman — a real estate agent who serves as a member of the city’s planning commission and as the chairman of the borough’s business development commission — is trying to get the word out.
“There is a main street, which is Fayette St., and it is full of retail shops and businesses. We’re also close to a number of main routes, such as Interstate 76 and 476, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and U.S. 202,” Mittman says. “I would tell a new business owner that we have just completed a revitalization plan, and a plan for the future of Conshohocken. And it digs down to what is needed in the borough. We already know that banks want to be here; we have Wawa (that) wants to be here. So there are other successful businesses that want to get into the borough.”
According to the revitalization plan, which Mittman helped construct, 20 percent of the approximately one square mile that comprises Conshohocken is zoned for commercial or borough use. Another 20 percent is used for manufacturing, while 40 percent is used for residential. The remaining 20 percent is related to transportation, including parking lots.
Above all else, Mittman says borough leaders want to see increased retail development, to help increase the profile of Fayette St., which runs southwest-to-northeast through the center of the borough.
Mittman says there are resources available to those who are interested in starting a business or relocating a business to Conshohocken. Chief among those is the business development commission.
“That is part of the reason we created the commission,” Mittman says. “To be the center point that can connect those businesses. We like to call ourselves a resource center, and if someone is looking to start a business in the borough and has specific questions, we can point them to the right spot. We can be the road map for them. If you were looking to start or relocate here, you would reach out to the borough hall. At that point, we’d provide you some resources to look over.”
The Conshohocken Borough Hall can be contacted at (610) 828-1092.
Population: 8,595 (2010)
Land area: 1.03 sq. mi.
Government system: Council-manager
Mayor: Robert Frost
Borough manager: Fran Marabella
Phone: (610) 828-1092