The City of Springfield has four target industries: medical technology, craft food and beverage, tech and advanced timber manufacturing. The economic development recruitment strategy involves serving these existing businesses. Photo provided
When it comes to highlighting projects and business growth within the past 12 months, City of Springfield Economic Development Director Courtney Griesel compared it to picking a favorite child, because she’s so proud of each addition.
”It’s a very exciting time,”she said. ”This council has done all of the work. This wasn’t organic or accident. This has been years of setting the stage and a lot of great things happening.”
The economic development team spends 70 percent of their activity focused directly on existing Springfield businesses, and 67 percent on their target industries. These targets include medical technology, craft food and beverage, tech and advanced timber manufacturing.
”We’re always open to proactive-type recruiting,” Griesel said. ”We do (elicit) recruitment, but it is very much about serving existing (businesses).”
To try to ”debunk the myth of economic development,” Griesel broke down the three focus areas in the City’s Economic Development Plan: Retention and expansion of existing businesses and recruitment. As of last month, the team spent 31 percent of its focus on both recruitment and expansion visits and 38 percent in retention visits.
Her strategy for retention: ”Show up when you don’t have to. Show up when you don’t need something.”
She added that it’s important to start a relationship with a business when it’s truly inquisitive. Companies are proud of what they do and she will ask to see their space out of care and interest.
”Push to start relationship-building before there’s a need, so when a need arises it’s a relationship and it’s not a reaction to a barrier they hit,” she explained.
Another focus of the plan is determining how competitive Springfield is compared to other out-of-area metro areas – so, not compared to Eugene or another Oregon community, Griesel said.
”When companies choose to open their doors here, where else are they looking to open their doors?” Griesel said. ”We believe that every day (that) businesses open doors here they can also open their doors elsewhere. We want to know how those regions are doing so we can do better.”
In a comparison based on a sample industrial manufacturer, Springfield was ranked against Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Washington and Nevada. In payroll and fringe/benefits Springfield came in fourth, fifth in utilities, third in building lease/buy, fifth in property tax and total operating cost, and third for cost of living.
One of the things that sets Springfield apart are its assets – one of the biggest being its utilities.
”Water and power are some of the highest quality in the Northwest,” Griesel said. ”Our water is abundant and of such high quality that for someone to look at craft food or beverage manufacturing, that makes a huge difference; abundance makes a difference in cost.”
She added, however, that the manufacturers in the area are still conscientious of their consumption, which makes the Green Power the City uses another positive mark for manufacturers.
Other assets include proximity to Interstate-5, innovative infrastructure, their school district and views of and access to nature and mountains.
The biggest challenge facing Springfield is a struggle the whole country is facing – housing.
”Anytime you grow a work force you’ve got to have a diversity of housing options,” Griesel said. ”As a community, region and nation we’re all struggling with housing pressures.”
There is also the effect of Springfield’s proximity to Eugene. It is part of a metro area that includes both cities as well as the University of Oregon population.
”We’re hitting above our weight class, absolutely, but we’re hitting above our weight class – which means you’ve got to have the conditioning and the knowledge and the infrastructure to support the demands of that,” Griesel said.
The boom that the City has seen in the past 10 years is not something Griesel said they can take credit for, because most of the growth decisions came from the companies that chose to position themselves in the area.
”I think we’ve been able to make projects come to fruition that might have gotten stuck,” she said, adding that they were also able to dive into data to validate what they believed to be real, such as being a national leader in timber manufacturing.
Going forward, there are a lot of potential projects the City is looking forward to, including diversity in housing opportunities, revitalization of Glenwood, an indoor track and Springfield’s own conference center.
”Now we get to the really hard and fun work of following the (Springfield City) Council’s lead on what they envision for the infrastructure and types of investment the city will make,” she said.
The most rewarding aspect for Griesel, however, is the day-to-day and celebrating with businesses.
”The most exciting thing is walking next to a business owner and watching them take a real deep breath for the first time on the other side of a really big project,” she said. ”They really put everything on the line and having a moment of, ‘Yes, we’ll be making our numbers this quarter,’ it truly is the coolest thing.”