As business leaders, benchmarking is a common tool to most of us. We use it to gauge successes and weaknesses as well as to judge the validity of our work processes. Benchmarking can help determine how to get from here to there. Economic development uses benchmarking too, as many of our community business leaders learned in January, when they traveled to Kalamazoo, Mich.
The two communities have several similarities, including the presence of top-notch educational facilities and an established business base. Our business reputation thus far has been associated more with heavy manufacturing, but we have been working to diversify our industrial base. The foundations for growth in the biotechnology field are also present. We have the technology infrastructure and excellent health and medical resources necessary to launch a successful biotechnology initiative. Many of the most influential leaders in the area realized our strengths, as was evident in the support received throughout the Battelle Institute’s study on a Bioscience Strategy for the area.
This community support will be key for the tri-County area as it continues to work towards a stronger biotechnology presence. Kalamazoo experienced tremendous growth in its biotechnology industry in the past few years. This was certainly not by chance, nor was it done through passive attraction efforts. The key to Kalamazoo’s success was its active community support.
When the local General Motors plant and UpJohn Laboratories—the community’s largest pharmaceutical player—began downsizing, community leaders took responsibility to not let the occurrences trigger a domino effect of lost industry. They took a crisis situation and transformed it into an opportunity. Leaders from the private sector created Southwest Michigan First (SMF) to build a sustainable economic development effort stabilize the area job base.
The organization’s first goals were to "Find the Five," which included leadership, money, projects, staff, and strategy. The leadership was purposely limited to allow for quicker reaction time and less bureaucratic slowdown. Funding was obviously of major importance as well, and Kalamazoo did a tremendous job of raising the required funds. Two hundred twenty million was raised through private investment in a 24-month span. Regarding projects, it was recognized the program would need an early win, a success story to use in marketing the area to subsequent companies. The final element—strategy—demonstrated the fact that SMF needed a unified strategy from which to work. If the organization wanted to recruit world-class companies, they needed to work under a set of world-class standards.
In Peoria’s situation, the first two elements are key and should be an immediate focus. Community leaders need to band together in several ways. Financially, Kalamazoo carried out an amazingly successful development campaign.
This is only possible when each and every community business takes responsibility for economic development. We will all benefit from the positive growth brought by the entrance of new business into the community. The quality of life improvements and tax proceeds will positively affect us in both tangible and intangible ways. Therefore, we should all take responsibility for raising the money necessary to recruit new business to the area.
It all comes down to the fact the business leaders in Kalamazoo actively and aggressively promoted the area. One or two charismatic individuals alone cannot carry out an undertaking such as this. It requires the support of an entire community, a community working towards a common goal in the only way that will achieve results…a community working together. IBI