Faribault’s Economic Development Authority won’t extend a year-long partnership with Texas-based consulting firm, but city staff say the partnership could well lead to big investments and job creation in the near future.
Last February, the EDA approved a roughly $10,000 contract with the firm with the twin goals of increasing Faribault’s profile within the site selector community and learning techniques and tactics to help the city market itself more effectively.
Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Nort Johnson said that it’s important for communities like Faribault, which has benefited from extensive investments from both foreign and domestic companies in recent years, to cultivate good relationships with site selectors.
“Most communities that are progressive in their economic development create good relationships with site selectors,” he said. “It’s great to know that we have a progressive EDA doing that here in Faribault.”
On the promotional side, the contract included business recruitment efforts focused on target industries. For Faribault, that meant personalized outreach via email or LinkedIn to more than 800 business leaders in the advanced manufacturing and food processing sectors. The large majority of those contacts elicited no response, and according to Community and Economic Development Coordinator Samantha Markman, no proposed projects have directly come out of the communication.
SLP also organized meetings with seven different site selectors, mostly located throughout the upper Midwest. While they didn’t specific projects haven’t come Faribault’s way, city staff has a better idea of what they look for when considering locations for investments.
COVID-19 turned those plans upside down, forcing the cancellation, postponement or digitalization of trade shows across the country. Nonetheless, Community and Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen has noted many companies are still interested in moving or expanding operations.
Business is better than ever for many advanced manufacturing and food processing companies, making expansion realistic. In fact, Markman has been in talks with a contact she’d made at a 2019 trade show about a potential investment in Faribault.
The transition wasn’t as big as it might have been because the site selectors have increasingly relied on digital resources, making it more important for ever for the city to have a professional web presence.
“If site selectors land on our website and the information they’re looking for isn’t there, they’re just going to move on without asking questions,” said Markman.
Last summer, the consulting firm launched a Faribault “hotspot” that was accessed more than 800 times, providing site selectors with a wide variety of relevant information about the city. Now, the EDA is working on a more user-friendly website, updated to reflect insights that came out of the meetings with site selectors. The goal will be to provide concise, direct information on the attributes and amenities of Faribault that site selectors find important.
City Councilor Janna Viscomi, an EDA member and downtown business owner, was enthused by Markman’s presentation and said that she foresees great things for Faribault as a result of the work that has been done to market the city.
“This is so great, so much better than when I first got on (the EDA),” she said.
However, Viscomi asked Markman why the city’s airport wasn’t more prominently featured. Devastated by a 2018 tornado, the airport built back bigger and better, providing a crucial resource for area businesses and attracting some of its own.
Markman said that she’s working on a promotional flyer specifically focused on the airport’s offerings. With the council committed to further expansion, she said that the facility’s prominent economic position will likely continue to grow.
Viscomi also encouraged staff to add more information about Faribault’s historic downtown to the website. While Markman responded that downtown isn’t seen as particularly relevant by site selectors, Viscomi believes it could help to attract some types of businesses.