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Recruit Who, Not What

May 5th, 2006 by dk

Every town has an economic growth strategy. Trouble is, every town has the same economic growth strategy: recruit businesses to relocate to the area, so the residents will have new jobs to choose from. Businesses recognize that every municipality is playing basically the same game, sometimes against its closest neighbors. Businesses understandably play the game to their own best advantage, weighing incentive packages, the eagerness of the labor pool, and the cooperation of the local leaders. The bigger the business, the harder the game is played.

Unfortunately, “quality of life” is quantifiable only indirectly for stockholders, who want maximum return on their investment in ways their brokers can measure. Quality of life can be monetized by reducing employee turnover, or by offering wonderful visuals for the company’s product packaging or its annual report. But that’s of limited value.

Lane County’s best assets don’t fit easily into a stock dividend disbursement envelope. Yet again, our best selling points are unique. Eugene can pursue a different strategy, first articulated by Scott Chambers.

Let others pursue leading businesses. We can set ourselves apart if we pursue business leaders. Recruit people, not industries. The best and the brightest will either bring their companies here, or they’ll start a new one. The end result is the same (jobs for residents), but the path won’t be so crowded that our best advantages can’t be seen by the people — or person — who matters.

The Oregon Bach Festival every summer attracts thousands from across the country. More tickets are sold to San Francisco residents than any city after Eugene and Portland. What do we do to encourage those visitors to consider becoming residents? Oregon Festival of American Music is building the same sort of reputation. Can we learn how to have this new type of conversation in time for the Olympic Track & Field trials in 2008? Many of these people can live absolutely anywhere. Why not Eugene?

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