how do you attract foreign firms to set up shop?

Filed under: Global Business — December 16, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

Money aside, here are 10 ways a community can lure foreign companies.

The magic word seems to be “jobs.” Cities, states, districts, office parks and even countries are all vying for firms to move into their communities, set up operations and feed employment. Employment creates a higher tax base, and helps all types of businesses. We see planes full of foreign business people come to the USA to scout locations. Deals are often lost for reasons we can’t understand. How can communities differentiate themselves, attract foreign firms and generate domestic jobs?

Money makes the world go ‘round
Most communities (let’s use this term for all types listed above) use similar sales pitches that focus solely on financial incentives; whether it is paid in subsidies, capital improvements and/or licenses. Sometimes incentives allow firms to save money, such as with tax credits. Occasionally we hear about free sewage and trash removal. We hear about payroll taxes being slashed.

Beyond these obvious financial enticements (which can be compared to others on a spreadsheet) are there other tools that can be used to lure firms to your town? Can we put on our marketing hats and gain advantages over other communities competing for the same business?

Let’s use the example of a Greek manufacturing firm that is interested in putting an operation somewhere in the USA. Money aside, here are 10 more tips:

Have Greek-speaking people available at the community level.
Relocation is tough work. There is a plethora of decisions and documents involved. Having people available who speak Greek will aid in the firm’s ability to make evaluations and comprehend the new society. If communities can’t afford to keep bilingual people on staff, they can hire them by the hour, by the day, or by the deal.

Translate your legal documents.
Have you ever tried to read a Greek commercial lease? The first rule of sales: make it easy to buy. Any community that won’t invest in translation is sending the Greeks the message that they don’t care.

Translate your marketing documents.
If a community is really serious about bringing in Greek business, then do they have a section on this topic, in Greek, on their website? Do they have brochures in Greek? Are they appealing to the Greek buyer, or just substituting “Greek” for “Japanese” in their literature?

Try to understand the Greek business person.
Who is this person? What do they really want? What are his fears and concerns? What is his belief system? What does he regard as truth? Undergo some cross cultural training before pitching this person. Go to formal training, or find a Greek locally and have a Gyro and some Tzatziki.

Try to understand the Greeks beyond business.
Do they go to Church? What do they eat? What types of leisure activities will they want to undertake? How will the children be schooled? Are there any special healthcare concerns? Any Greek immigrant can tell you what she misses from “back home.” Take the time to find this out.

Create a task force of stakeholders.
Americans are notorious for receiving foreign visitors and leaving them alone for long periods of time to watch HBO in their hotel rooms. Hosting Greek visitors is time consuming (especially in our example, as Greek hospitality is overwhelming…Greeks in particular take very good care of their guests). Since we can’t quit our jobs to play tour guide 7 days a week, a rotating welcoming committee will keep the Greeks happy and still allow us to keep our “day job.”

Offer temporary offices
If any community is serious about attracting Greek firms, they should provide a place for them to land. With real estate occupancy low, many landlords may want to take a chance on offering a short term lease for free with an option to extend at market rates once the tenant is comfortable.

Offer temporary housing
Why doesn’t a community that really wants to appeal to companies from Greece offer temporary housing? Give the weary travelers a place to get acclimated. Make them feel at home.

Integrate your new guests.
Should your local Chamber of Commerce have a Greek department? Should the local Better Business Bureau offer a board seat to the incoming Greek company director? Should there be a Greek Club in town? Greek CEOs are moving themselves, their families and hopefully their suppliers to your community. Are you set up to win?

Find people who have lived in Greece and put them on a committee.
If you haven’t been an expatriate, you cannot relate to the experience. So don’t pretend. Find people who have been in that position (hopefully in Greece in our example) and retain them. Keep them available as guides (for the community as well as the Greek guests).

These tips will help your community differentiate itself from the pure “tax” discussions that your competitors use. And they will aid in purely domestic pitches as well.

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