“What is the ‘blue light special’?”
As an economic development specialist, I was horrified that this could all go wrong. Walmart executives, who had no local Walmart store to stop by in Steubenville in 2001, visited the local Kmart to get a sense of the workforce and community. They asked a worker to explain this technique to drive impulse purchases among Kmart shoppers.
It was as if the fate of hundreds of jobs in eastern Ohio rested in the hands of one person. It’s because he did.
I witnessed the gentleman being respectful and more than happy to explain. He did an excellent job. He didn’t know what role he was playing and, if he had had a bad day or behaved differently, how he could have made the story worse.
Three months later, the community would receive the incredible economic news that a new $75 million Walmart food distribution center would be built. Today it is the largest economic base employer, with 800 employees, in Jefferson County, Ohio.
This has always been my personal example of how everyone in the community has a role to play in economic development. Everyone.
I have new stories following this recent announcement from Intel. Intel is among us.
A visitor to a local museum asked his host about the natural sites and history of Licking County. After Intel’s announcement last month, the host made the connection: the visitor was identified as working with Intel and having a relationship with Licking County.
The informal visit and chance encounter could have been a turning point.
Just days into the New Year, a large bus stopped at the Midland Theater and other venues in Newark. Mine was the only local and familiar face. No names have been shared. No corporate attire was spotted. No business card was distributed. I’m sure many were wondering what was going on. The bus was the event team for Intel and state officials scouting locations for an upcoming announcement.
Although the deal is done, the location of the announcement has certainly not been decided. All of the local stops showed the kind of capability that has long been our county’s mantra – big enough to have the resources, but small enough to care about one business at a time.
The rest, as they say, is history. Midland and Newark will be forever associated with Intel and the day Ohio’s largest economic development project is announced.
What happened between June and January that could have been our local equivalent of the “special blue light” quiz? A buyer at Granville Milling in Johnstown. Owner of a pet at the Jersey Township Kennel Club. Hikers at Blackhand Gorge. Guests at the Cherry Valley Hotel. There have been many past encounters that could have been the turning point too.
There will be more in the future.
The role we all play in economic development will continue. The community has an opportunity to capitalize on Intel’s $20 billion news, take advantage of Intel’s plans to grow its investment to $100 billion, and attract vendor installs. It will take all of us.
Rick Platt is the President and CEO of the Port Authority of Heath-Newark-Licking County, a regular development columnist, and a father of four who lives in Newark. He is a member of the JobsOhio Board of Directors.