Ohio’s health care industry benefits from the state’s many strengths

Ohio’s health care industry is fortunate to have excellent research arms associated with its nationally accredited medical centers — Cleveland Clinic, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center being chief among them.

“No other state has the top adult hospital health system and the top children’s medical centers,” says Aaron Pitts, senior managing director at JobsOhio.

He says these organizations recruit some of the best doctors in the world, their hospitals treat some of the most acute patients and they attract a lot of research dollars.

“They test new devices, pharmaceuticals and surgical techniques, and they capture intellectual property, which companies get formed around, which creates wealth and jobs — it’s a virtuous cycle of innovation emanating from these three centers of health care excellence,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Pitts about the advantages of Ohio’s strong health care and bioscience industry.

How does Ohio’s health care industry compare to those based in other states?

Where systems are ranked — US News & World Report being among the more popular, for example — Ohio regularly has the best hospital systems in the world. It’s been home to the best-ranked heart hospital for 21 years, a hospital people go to from all over the world that sets a path for others to follow.

The inventions and innovations that spring from these health care systems become licensed products that are used to save lives. For example, Assurex Health, a spinoff that got its start in part from patented technology licensed from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, has developed its GeneSight test, a genetic test that helps health care providers personalize medicine for patients. AveXis, Abeona Therapeutics and Myonexus Therapeutics are all companies that got their start because of Nationwide Children’s gene therapy research capabilities. And Cleveland HeartLab Inc. and IBM Explorys are both companies that were born from innovations of the Cleveland Clinic.

Each of these companies are accelerating Ohio’s growth in the health care and technology industries, and each owe their start to Ohio IP. They have either become public companies or been acquired by strategic global powerhouses.

How are Ohio’s academic and medical research centers contributing to the state’s health care industry?

Students graduating from Case Western Reserve University become some of the best health care professionals in the country, and The Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati have great STEM programs. Each of the state’s health care systems is working with institutions of higher education to provide internships and residencies that build up the next generation workforce.

What does Ohio offer to companies in the health care space?

Ohio is fortunate to have Ohio Third Frontier, an incubator matched with local dollars that turns ideas into companies and attracts capital. The organization has a commitment to early-stage companies and works with shareholders across the state to create a support network to foster the creation and development of companies. BioEnterprise in Cleveland does much the same work.

Beyond the science realm, there’s a supply chain that supports the drugs and devices companies in the health care space create. The state’s manufacturing knowhow is an advantage because companies that want to make a device can find manufacturers nearby who have that capability.

Astute buyers understand that Ohio is among the safest places in the U.S. to operate. The state isn’t subject to major floods, wildfires or hurricanes, which reduces operational risks.

In addition to being a great place to manufacture, Ohio has a geographic advantage. Its centrality makes it a natural place to distribute products. Ohio also has a balanced economy and political makeup, which makes it an attractive place to do business.

Ohio is a fantastic place to live and work. It has many strong institutions moving medical research forward. People who look closely at what the state has to offer are often blown away by what they see.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by JobsOhio

Shale formations generate billions in investment with much still untapped

The first Ohio shale well in the Utica and Marcellus Shale formations was drilled in February 2011. In the short time since, the formations have attracted some $64 billion in private sector investment.

“Those looking to invest in Ohio’s shale opportunity have confidence in the state and the business environment it fosters,” says Dana A. Saucier Jr., Senior Managing Director for Energy and Chemicals and Food & Agribusiness at JobsOhio. “The prevailing sentiment is that it’s an attractive place to deploy capital.”

Smart Business spoke with Saucier about the opportunities that exist in Ohio because of the Utica and Marcellus Shale formations.

What is the state of Ohio’s shale business?
As of mid-2017, the shale industry has invested $63.9 billion dollars in investment in upstream, midstream and downstream activities since 2011.

The rig count peaked in 2015 before prices started to decline in the global oil market, causing the drill count to go down. However, in Utica and Marcellus, the volume of output continued to increase, which speaks to the productivity of those shale wells.

In the past year, as prices have rebounded, drilling activity has picked up again, and so have the rig counts. There also have been new natural gas pipelines that enable more capacity to be extracted and taken to market. It’s brought an uptick in additional investment in the past 12 months of around $10 billion dollars.

Utica and Marcellus as a region represents 85 percent of shale gas growth in the U.S. since 2012. This region has been extremely impactful in leading the U.S. in shale production, and less than 10 percent of all the available acreage has been drilled. Its future is bright as downstream opportunities continue to manifest.

What has been the economic impact of Ohio’s shale business to the state?
The gross state product to Ohio because of these investments is approaching $100 billion. The industry has also directly added as many as 12,000 jobs in the state — jobs that tend to pay above-average salaries. When indirect jobs are added in, such as welders and fabricators, maintenance and logistics, that figure exceeds 100,000.

The state is also benefiting from the taxes paid. For example, the tax revenue from a large, newly constructed power plant in Eastern Ohio that’s using shale natural gas and turning it into clean power funded a K-12 school system, so the benefits are felt across the board.

What types of business investments have come from those looking to capitalize on Ohio’s shale resources?
The most obvious investments have come from the industry itself, beginning with the oil and gas exploration, pipelines, refineries, and natural gas power plants leading downstream to the petrochemical industry that use these feedstocks. What is less obvious to many is that Ohio’s shale resources have made the state attractive to other industries where energy costs are very important to the cost of manufacturing.

It’s not just important that Ohio develops its shale resources, but that we use these feedstocks here in Ohio because job creation expands drastically as value is added to the commodity. Ohio’s shale growth offers enormous potential to expand its tremendous existing ecosystem in the chemical, plastics, resin, adhesive, polymer and coatings industries.

What does Ohio offer to those businesses investing here?
With a time-tested manufacturing and high-tech legacy, Ohio possesses a highly trained, cost competitive and productive construction workforce ready and capable of building the necessary facilities. Post construction, the talent will be available to operate once they’re up and running. Ohio’s university feeder system connects many industries to the well-trained and talented workforce. And the state has an attractive tax environment.

Ohio offers access to the most productive and low-cost shale formations in the world, and has one of the nation’s largest concentration of chemical manufacturers. The state’s central geographical location puts businesses within a day’s reach of 60 percent of the North American market. As amazing as it’s been so far, the best days are ahead.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by JobsOhio

Ohio’s financial sector is the state’s quiet giant

From an outside perspective, there is little awareness of the size and strength of Ohio’s financial sector. However, once a conversation begins regarding the organizations that have chosen to headquarter here, people are surprised.

Terry Gore, director of financial services at JobsOhio, says Ohio’s financial sector is the second-largest sector in the state and the sixth-largest financial sector in the U.S., providing a home for a blend of insurance, payments, asset management and banking companies that include Progressive Corp., Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., Fifth Third Bank, KeyBank, Huntington Bank and Worldpay.

“With the growing focus on financial technology, to take advantage of a pipeline of well-educated tech-savvy talent and an advantageous cost of doing business, Ohio’s financial sector is sure to generate more conversations,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Gore about Ohio’s financial sector and the impact it has on other Ohio businesses and industries.

Why is Ohio’s financial sector succeeding?

Ohio’s financial sector is benefiting from the advantageous business climate, East Coast time zone and its ability to tap into the readily available stream of talent — over 200 higher educational institutions across the state. Ohio has more than 170,000 students graduating annually, providing a pipeline of increasingly tech-savvy talent.

Ohio also has a very reasonable cost of doing business compared to other top financial centers. Ohio’s talented, loyal workforce provides a great deal of value to employers when compared to a workforce in New York City or other higher-cost locations.

Another key factor is the level of collaboration in the state. Regulators are collaborating with businesses on solving sector challenges, and everyone is partnering with education. That creates a welcoming and business-friendly environment.

The sector is also being strengthened by fintech activity, which is, in part, a recognition that the ways in which business is done today requires reassessment. Ohio is ahead of the curve in terms of the innovation value proposition. Recently, a number of Ohio stakeholders have come together to support fintech innovation through the nonprofit accelerator, Fintech71. With its mission to attract the most-innovative fintech startups and connect them with the top financial services companies in the world, it has the potential to grow Ohio’s talent and innovation pipeline.

What opportunities does a stronger financial services sector offer to the state?

The companies that comprise Ohio’s financial sector — representing some of the strongest brands in the country — and their success highlight the strength of the state’s economy and its level of sophistication. The sector’s health and vitality create a spillover effect of greater investment in Ohio communities and increased job creation.

A well-functioning, robust financial services sector provides the glue that holds the economy together and helps it grow. When done right, financial products and services enable both individuals and businesses to protect and grow their prosperity, and are impacting communities by helping advance the mission of each individual, entrepreneur, and small and large business.

The sector is also a pipeline of well-educated talent — be it in accounting, marketing or technology — to the other sectors of the local economy.

How does a strong financial services sector benefit other Ohio businesses?

Proximity to customers and markets affects the custom value proposition. Having financial institutions here and partnering with them directly provides a feedback loop between them and other businesses, enabling them to work together to capitalize on opportunities and overcome challenges.

Ohio is an excellent representation of what America is about, what regular people want, need and care for. This creates the possibility for banks, insurance companies and other financial services providers to customize their products and services without going far, to know that it would create value to individuals, communities and businesses. Ohio and its people are the primary beneficiary of such collaboration.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by JobsOhio

Advanced manufacturing creates growth for people, the economy

Advanced manufacturing techniques are making their presence felt in the industry with better machines, materials and methods to produce existing and new products.

“These forces are pushing manufacturers from an economic perspective, leveling the playing fields across countries,” says Glenn Richardson, managing director of Advanced Manufacturing, Aerospace & Aviation at JobsOhio. “The sector has been successful at growing jobs in advanced manufacturing — good paying jobs with good career potential. Continuing that momentum requires cross-sectional skill sets that marry both the mechanical and electrical aptitude as well as the information technology that connects it all together.”

Smart Business spoke with Richardson about the state of manufacturing and how the sector can create the opportunities of the future.

What are the factors in Ohio’s market that enable companies that embrace advanced manufacturing to be successful?

Ohio offers a lot. It is the seventh largest state with the third largest manufacturing workforce. It’s the country’s second largest producer of automobiles, and the top supplier state to Airbus and The Boeing Co.

Ohio is also well positioned to grow and attract businesses because of its business-friendly environment. It’s a low-tax state. When businesses look to relocate, chief among their considerations is the cost of operation. Businesses need a workforce that’s capable and a good value. They need knowledgeable workers who are capable of being developed.

Beyond a business-friendly climate and good workforce, manufacturers need excellent innovation infrastructure. Ohio’s education network and 80 college campuses offer curriculum in engineering and technology that is generating great talent at the undergraduate level. They’re also an engine for innovation, driving research through its graduate students who are on the leading edge of new technologies in advanced manufacturing, processes, and information and data analytics. After they graduate, they’re going to work for Ohio companies. That provides a continual replenishment of knowledge workers and that’s important for sustainability.

What is the state of Ohio’s current manufacturing workforce?

There is some concern in the manufacturing sector about filling the jobs that are necessary to grow businesses and the economy. The demographics of the state’s manufacturing workforce comprise a significant portion of baby boomers, many of whom are poised to retire. Those workers will need to be replaced if the sector is to expand. However, Ohio is a manufacturing state, so the sector gets a lot of attention, which has made the workforce issues something many entities are working hard to address.

Companies in this sector are finding success as they leave the old methods of recruiting behind and instead use more digital methods. It’s a smarter way to find candidates that also helps present manufacturing not as a job, but as a career.

Along with outreach to schools and better networking practices, manufacturers are addressing their workforce needs for today and into the future.

What can manufacturers do to increase their chances of success?

Manufacturers will do well to develop good talent acquisition networks to fill jobs and lead the successful transition from traditional to new methods and materials to create in-demand products.

Businesses in this sector should couple the constant development of their workforce with continuous improvement in production and how they design and ideate. They should plug into Ohio’s strong innovation infrastructure and educational system to support both their technology and workforce development initiatives.

Advanced materials, additive manufacturing and automation are three trends that will continue to shape the manufacturing sector. Industry 4.0 is not about replacing the human element in the industry, but instead about bringing higher-level capabilities to the machines that work alongside humans to make them more productive. It’s leaving the more cognitive functions to the humans and reserving the repetitive work for the machines.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by JobsOhio

How an Irving, Texas, business makes the most of its location, city resources

Ryan K. Robinson, President and co-owner, Signal Metal Industries Inc.

Ryan K. Robinson, President and co-owner, Signal Metal Industries Inc.

In 2012, Chief Executive rated Texas as the No. 1 state for business, while California was the worst. Both states have held their titles for eight years in a row. In the survey, based on 650 CEO responses, Texas earned high marks in business-friendly tax, regulatory environment and workforce quality.

Ryan K. Robinson, president and co-owner of Signal Metal Industries Inc., couldn’t imagine his manufacturing business anywhere else. A second-generation company in the area for 40 years, Signal specializes in building heavy equipment and machinery designed to specification.

“Texas is surely one of the most business-friendly states in the union,” Robinson says. “I think within Texas, the city of Irving is somewhat unique in that 70 percent of Irving’s tax base comes from businesses. So the city of Irving and the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber understand that business is the driver of this community.”

Smart Business spoke with Robinson about why Irving is the best location for them, and how to create a good working relationship with municipal organizations.

Why is Irving, Texas, a good location for your business and others?

First and foremost, Irving is centrally located. My company builds large, heavy products that ship coast-to-coast and out of the deep-water port of Houston. Another factor is our plant is located within 10 minutes of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Also, the workforce in Irving is great. North Irving is a bit glitzier and where Las Colinas is located. This, along with our new Orange Line light rail service, gives Irving sophistication, while South Irving residents are the blue collar, hard-working folks. Therefore, a manufacturing company has a tremendous pool of qualified workers to draw from.

Finally, the city and Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce have a lot to offer. In Irving, there are headquarters of Fortune 500 companies, medium-sized companies like Signal Metal and a whole host of the mom-and-pop types. The city and chamber realize the value in all of them and tailor programs for the big guys, the medium guys and the small guys.

What makes a good relationship between a manufacturing company like yours and the city or chamber of commerce?

I became a member of the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber three years ago, but my relationship is somewhat unique — as with all of us in Irving — because the chamber is the economic development wing of the city of Irving. Most cities have their own economic development department, but the city of Irving does not. As a member who sits on the chamber’s board, it gives me the ability to directly network with city managers and the mayor of Irving.

Why is this relationship important?

Once you have a relationship with the city, you understand how the city works. A lot of Irving chamber members are retail companies that sell locally, but I don’t have a single customer in Irving. However, you always have to deal with the bureaucracy of the city when you grow — as Signal has in the past five years — and buy property, construct buildings or expand existing facilities.

Since I’ve been involved in the chamber, it’s easier because I know who does what and I have a chance to visit with them. I think that gives me an advantage when getting through the red tape in a timely fashion.

Signal hasn’t grown because of its membership with the chamber, but the relationship with the chamber has facilitated that growth because the chamber has helped make sure everything is in line, whether it be with the fire department, building permits or code enforcement.

Do you have any advice about creating a smooth working relationship with city officials or a chamber of commerce?

My advice is to join and get involved. Your local chamber will welcome you with open arms to serve on a committee or to just take advantage of all the mixers and networking opportunities you get as a member.

Once you get involved in the chamber, you learn more about how the city operates because city officials sit on the board. You’re right there in the middle of it. Getting involved gets you plugged in, and then you can take it from there.

Ryan K. Robinson is president and co-owner at Signal Metal Industries Inc. Reach him at (972) 438-1022 or [email protected]

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce


How Allen beat out competition to attract PFSweb

PFSweb, a growing business providing e-commerce solutions to many major retailers, was courted by several communities when it was looking for a new location for its professional staff of more than 400 employees.

The company ended up opening its new facility in April 2012 in Allen because the city and the Allen Economic Development Corporation best understood its needs.

“The entire economic development group listened well in terms of what our needs and requirements were. The city’s been great,” says Mark Layton, founder and former CEO of PFSweb. “One year in, I don’t have anything negative to say about our experience in Allen.”

Smart Business spoke with Layton, who recently left PFSweb to pursue other business opportunities, about the factors that led to the move and a 10-year lease in Allen.

Why was PFSweb looking to leave its Plano, Texas facility?

We had been there about 20 years and there were growth issues, as well as a parking problem. Our real estate professionals encouraged us to take a broader look at the market and it became apparent that there was an opportunity to create competition.

The challenge was that we had two distinct uses — a worldwide data center and a call center operation — that potentially required different types of facility solutions. Vacancy rates had been so high in downtown Dallas that it was cost effective to relocate to a space that also gives us significant ability to expand and contract to meet our needs.

The city of Allen didn’t have a suitable site for the call center, but obviously played a part in relocation of our headquarters and technology development lab.

What separated Allen from the competition?

The building our commercial real estate representatives and the economic development corporation brought to us had some great amenities and potential. The owner offered flexibility in configuring the space correctly for us, building out a corporate park with a running track, basketball courts, horseshoe pits, etc. He also allowed us to be single tenant even though the space was bigger than what we needed — he delayed a requirement for us to lease the space for several years, giving us room to grow.

What role did the city and Allen Economic Development Corporation play?

Their help regarding financial supplements was very important. Dallas, Richardson and Frisco were also aggressive in trying to lure us, particularly when the call center piece was separated and we had about 400 relatively high-paying jobs that were very attractive.

The city of Allen and its economic development group showed a lot of awareness and understanding of our challenges relating to accounting regulations and how the incentives could be shown on our books to help reduce overall expense. Accounting regulations want you to take incentives in a lump sum; our profit and loss statement would have shown a higher rental through the entire 10-year term and a big financial windfall in the final quarter.

Other economic development corporations handed us a standard contract and didn’t show a desire to change the terms and conditions. With Allen, they had dealt with these issues with other public companies, and their familiarity was a breath of fresh air. We didn’t have to do a lot of education as we did with the other groups. Language needed to be structured correctly and it required flexibility as their legal group worked with our accountants. That was a differentiator for us.

Would you recommend the city to other companies looking to relocate?

Certainly, from my standpoint it has been a great experience. The only drawback is that Allen doesn’t have a large inventory of buildings, although the city is addressing that situation and there is land that can be developed if companies want to build to suit.

It’s been a great relationship and the economic development corporation did a wonderful job for us. We would absolutely recommend Allen to other companies looking for this type of office space.

Mark Layton is the founder and former CEO of PFSweb. Reach him at (972) 881-2900 or [email protected]

Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.

How to relocate your business by considering what’s important to you

Carter Holston, general manager, Real Estate, NEC Corporation of America

When a business owner wants to relocate, the task can seem daunting. However, by exploring some key considerations, you can prioritize the move and find a location that works well for your present company and your future growth.

One such location — Irving, Texas — is in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Irving has more than 8,500 businesses already operating in the region.

“You need a value-driven proposition,” says Carter Holston, general manager of Real Estate NEC Corporation of America. “You have to have a good location. You have to have a great office space. You have to have access to your employees and pay the right amount of tax, both school and other. All that goes into the mix when you make the decision.”

Smart Business spoke with Holston about what employers need to consider for relocation and why the Greater Irving-Las Colinas area fits that bill.

If you’re thinking of relocating to a new city, what needs to be considered? How does that relate to the Irving area? 

There are three components any company needs to weigh:

• Workforce.

• How you access the workforce, the accessibility within the region, and how you move about via the roadways and mass transit.

• The business-friendly environment.

Irving is in the center of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, so access to an available work force is not a problem. The area also is adjacent to a major airport — the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

The Irving area has accessibility from the standpoint of mass transit, which is a game changer in business today. The new work force prefers living, working and playing in the same area.

Then there’s the business-friendly environment, one of the most important factors. Companies need to be in cities that believe in business, that understand the revenue derived from taxes and what it means to have citizens employed.

What’s the current state of Irving’s commercial real estate market?

Commercial real estate in Irving is firming up. Generally Texas and specifically Irving represent good market value to corporations considering relocating.

Irving has more than 30 million square feet of commercial office space and is the third-largest submarket in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Typically, there is about a 20 percent vacancy rate, which has been as high as 25 percent, so Irving is a value-driven market. Most companies seem to be taken aback at the leasing rates in Dallas compared to other regions.

Irving also has a new light rail system running through the central urban center, which should positively affect commercial real estate.

What else makes the North Texas region so attractive?

Texas and Dallas, in particular, are ‘can do’ regions. There’s no geographic reason for Dallas to exist, no great river system or other natural resources. In spite of its lack of natural resources, the people who settled here on the prairie a long time ago made it work, and that theme and attitude have carried through the years. Even when the oil business was in decline, Dallas found a way to diversify and sought other industries to attract such as banking and insurance, real estate and huge service industry providers.

This ‘can do’ attitude holds true for the area’s longevity and its future, which is based on finding a way to get things done.

How can an employer find tax breaks and incentives when moving into a new area?

You should be represented well and ask your representative what types of incentives have been granted previously.  However, don’t let incentives be the only factor that you consider when relocating your company.

The Greater Irving-Las Colinas area is certainly very affordable with available space and incentives. It’s clearly a value driven proposition for business owners in a business-friendly environment.

Holston oversees all domestic commercial real estate functions at Real Estate NEC Corporation of America and is responsible for more than 1 million square feet of leased and owned facilities. He also serves as a consultant to the Irving Economic Development Partnership at the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce.

Carter Holston is general manager of Real Estate at NEC Corporation of America. Reach him at (214) 262-2190 or [email protected]

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce

How TelStrat benefits from relocating its headquarters to Allen

A global company that started out as a provider of telecommunications equipment, TelStrat was founded in 1993 in Plano, Texas to take advantage of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex’s Telecom Corridor.

“Being in the middle of the telecom industry is very important to us because of the engineering and product development talent that is available,” says Jennifer Slack, CFO of TelStrat.

When the company sold off a division a couple years ago to focus solely on software, the Plano site was leased to another business and TelStrat needed to find a new location. TelStrat celebrated its 20th anniversary this past February and is focused on providing call recording and workforce optimization solutions.

Smart Business spoke with Slack about the decision to move the company’s headquarters to nearby Allen, Texas.

What were the key factors favoring Allen?

It was the location and the local talent pool. We knew we wanted to stay in the same general vicinity. Employees love the Allen area because of the good schools and housing that is available. The quality of life that’s in Allen makes it very easy to find employees.

How has the Allen Economic Development Corporation assisted TelStrat?

They helped with incentives that made it more affordable to change locations. Moving can be very disruptive, as well as expensive, and the financial incentives they provided definitely helped.

The city of Allen and the economic development corporation also sponsor many programs for businesses. They provide many opportunities for networking and encourage businesses within Allen to build on the synergies available, or just talk to each other for advice. They certainly promote that spirit of cooperation.

At one of their events, I met a representative from a local company that was able to help with our recruiting efforts. We’ve probably not taken full advantage of what Allen and the economic development corporation offer, but it did help with recruiting.

What is the nature of TelStrat’s operations in Allen?

It’s a complete headquarters facility; we have about 50 employees working in departments from sales order entry to engineers for software development and support and maintenance of our product with customers. There are also some sales staff, accounting and HR personnel.

The landlord was very helpful in remodeling the site. We predominately needed office and lab space and the building had served as a call center or back office. We’re in a five-year lease and it’s a very convenient location right off of the North Central Expressway.

What’s the best thing about your new location?

It’s the convenience — it’s very easy to get around for meetings, or if we have clients or partners visiting us. There are plenty of nearby options for lunches and shopping, which employees enjoy because it saves them a lot of time and helps with developing a good work/life balance. It‘s great when you have children and you need some flexibility if they have something special going on or are sick. You can pick them up for a dental appointment and get back fairly quickly. It helps a lot to have your place of employment near your neighborhood.

We’re a pretty simple company with simple needs. The city of Allen and economic development board have made it easy for us to do business here.

Jennifer Slack is the CFO at TelStrat. Reach her at (972) 633-4512 or [email protected]

Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.

How to best work with municipalities and other government entities


Tommy Gonzalez, city manager, Irving, Texas

Irving, Texas is a recipient of the 2012 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest Presidential honor for performance through innovation, improvement and visionary leadership. Irving is only the second municipality to receive the award in its 25-year history.

City Manager Tommy Gonzalez said Irving has reduced costs by $44 million and improved satisfaction service levels by double digits.

“We reduced our work force by 10 percent without laying anyone off or implementing furloughs and, at the same time, increased benefits,” he says. “We identified numerous efficiencies that resulted in 50,000 labor hours saved. Code enforcement improved by 88 percent, and we dropped the number of days to turn around commercial building permits from 16 to three and a half. These efforts culminated with Irving retaining its AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s during a recession, while offering residents and business owners among the lowest tax rates and water fees in North Texas.”

Smart Business spoke with Gonzalez about the way Irving works with businesses and how to apply these lessons.

How should a good relationship between a business owner and the municipality work?

Good communication between the city and business community is important. By having a proactive communication flow, the city gets intelligence on issues business owners are having with city processes. For example, Irving was considering an ordinance that would impact the certification of restaurant servers. Because the city reached out to businesses, it was able to make the ordinance helpful to customer safety but not so onerous to implement. Another example was a state highway project through the middle of Irving where the city and the chamber of commerce coordinated with the state to help businesses relocate and/or work with the department of transportation.

So, both sides need to reach out to each other?

Yes. Irving has 39 different ways to communicate with customers — in this case businesses — like newsletters, our website, Facebook, Twitter, email blasts, etc. If there’s a new project, the city can let others know how it might impact them and keep them in the loop.

What are some of the best ways through government bureaucracy and red tape, including navigating the permit process?

The city made an effort to speed up the permit process because when a business is building a large structure, in order to create several hundred jobs, and in some cases thousands of jobs, you don’t want to hold up the work. Irving’s permitting process now takes three and a half days after eliminating unnecessary steps. Using incentives, Irving built a new culture and a new way of thinking. Another way to minimize the red tape is through surveys. Between random and point of service surveys, done at the departmental level, the city can listen and then change the way it does business. Many times problems or improvements are obvious to business owners, but not to the city.

Aside from letting the municipality know about issues, when business owners show up for permits, bring as much information — plans and documents — as you can. Those that come forward with complete and comprehensive information in hand will get processed quicker.

How can local entities assist employers with state or federal issues? 

Cities can work in cooperation with businesses on some developmental opportunities. In some cases Irving has received federal grants that not only help the public sector but also tie in with private development, especially for environmental issues. The local government also can supplement state or federal services. For example, the state picks up litter along state highways twice a year, but Irving stepped in to pick up litter more often, resulting in a cleaner highway that people assume is safer, which in turn increases the community’s value.

Tommy Gonzalez is city manager of Irving, Texas. Reach him at (972) 721-2521 or [email protected] Visit the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.

Click for the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s profile on Irving — Baldrige: Irving is ‘A Lone Star Model of Fiscal Achievement.’

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce

How Experian found a place to grow in Allen

When Experian arrived in Allen, Texas in 1993, the city was “at the end of U.S. 75 and just starting as a community,” says Russell Tieman, vice president of facilities and administration.

The consumer credit services company has grown along with the city, and last year signed a lease extension to stay through 2025. That came on the heels of a 2010 agreement with the Allen Economic Development Corporation to invest $30 million in facilities in return for incentives totaling $1.5 million over 10 years. As part of the agreement, Experian plans to add 300 employees to boost its workforce in Allen to 1,000, with most being part of the national assistance call center or global technology services team.

“We have a great relationship with the city, and there’s a great, highly educated labor force here,” says Tieman.

Smart Business spoke with Tieman about Experian’s investment and what makes Allen a good location for its business.

What makes Allen a good location?

When Experian originally moved to Allen, there was nothing here. Since then, there’s been so much commercial and retail growth, as well as new housing. It’s been an up and growing suburban community, and Experian tends to be in locations outside of central business districts. For example, the company headquarters is in Costa Mesa, Calif., as opposed to a downtown area. Allen and the surrounding communities have good, safe neighborhoods and an excellent labor force. Quality of life is important and you want to limit commutes.

Did Experian consider other locations before renewing its lease?

Yes, but we conducted an analysis and it made more sense to stay. It was challenging to remodel an occupied space instead of building new. But, although we tested the local real estate market, we never considered looking outside of Allen. In the end, we chose to stay because of our long-standing relationship with the city of Allen and the deal we negotiated with our landlord.

What impact did the Allen Economic Development Corporation have on that decision?

They assisted as much with their customer service as the incentives that they offered. It’s very competitive among local economic development groups in Texas, and Allen works hard to keep and attract companies. They are really great to work with — the whole city, not just the economic development team.

What was involved in the $30 million investment made by Experian?

About $20 million has been put into remodeling in the past few years, with at least $10 million more going toward equipment and other assets. The space was originally built in 1993 with cubicles that had very high walls, and it was very dark and chopped up. The work plan is more colorful and energetic, and builds collaboration. There is a lot of meeting space, video conferencing, game rooms, TV rooms, quiet rooms and amenities that would not have been thought of in 1993. We had been working in a space based on 1993 technology and it was time to invest in the property.

There was surplus space, and the space that was being used is far more efficient with the remodel. The final phase of the second floor was recently finished and received all sorts of accolades. Employees who had worked in the old design have been saying, ‘This is fantastic.’

Would you recommend Allen to companies looking to relocate?

Absolutely, it’s a great community. The Allen Economic Development Corporation is a great group to work with and very helpful. That help would probably be even more beneficial to a company that didn’t already have experience in Allen. Any company should look at the North Dallas metroplex area, particularly Allen.

Russell Tieman is a vice president of facilities and administration at Experian. Reach him at (714) 612-0597 or [email protected]

Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Allen Economic Development Corporation