Business Recruitment During COVID-19

How EDCs Are Adapting in a Virtual World

Originally featured in the Independent Tribune on October 25, 2020

One of the most important goals for any economic development corporation (EDC) is to recruit new business to the area, but the COVID-19 pandemic and its residual economic effects have not made that easy. Just as companies have had to adapt how they do business on a regular basis, so has the Cabarrus EDC; however, their focus on keeping a steady pipeline of new and expanding businesses, and therefore providing job opportunities for our community, has not changed.

New Ways to Showcase Properties

One of the biggest changes that EDC’s have seen in the marketplace is the need to be able to showcase properties and “sell” our community virtually, which is a big shift from being able to host companies and consultants in person. The good news is that there is still activity when it comes to business expansion and growth, but now there is an added emphasis on safety and reducing exposure, especially with travel. More and more initial site visits are being done virtually, so the Cabarrus EDC has had to refocus their efforts on how to keep our community competitive with a strong virtual presence.

One way they’ve been able to pull this off is with the use of drones. Page Castrodale, Interim Executive Director at Cabarrus EDC, explains how they have been able to use drones to show the different aspects of a property during a virtual site visit, “We’re fortunate that many of the property owners in our community have been proactive about this and have drone footage ready to go. When a company is asking about a property that they can’t see in person, it helps when we can quickly send that right over. And for other properties, we’ve been able to lean on our various community partners who have the tools and technology necessary to get the footage we need. It really is a team effort.”

Virtual Site Visits Become the Norm

While site consultants have been previewing communities online for years, these in-depth virtual site visits were just starting to gain widespread popularity prior to COVID-19. Now, they have become a game changer, allowing communities to shine and remain in consideration for new business. As EDC’s all over the country are changing how they showcase their communities, companies are also having to change their site selection process in order to make decisions with as little exposure to risk as possible.

According to Beth H. Land in an article published for the Site Selection Group, “Companies and consultants are looking for ways to keep projects moving, without exposure risk and without sacrificing quality in decision-making.”

Samantha Grass, Recruitment Project Manager at Cabarrus EDC, points out that “many client teams are shortlisting communities based on the information we submit via email or present virtually so that when they do decide to visit properties, there will be less in person visits to conduct.”

To respond to this demand, the Cabarrus EDC will be launching a new website later this month that includes a virtual tour of our community and will feature existing properties available for new business, a look into Cabarrus County’s quality of life, and other key statistics that companies consider when choosing sites to visit. The Cabarrus EDC plans to deliver as much content online as possible so they can stay competitive in this rapidly changing environment.

New Business Activity Gains Momentum Locally

So, you may be wondering, how has EDC activity been for Cabarrus County since the pandemic started? “While new business activity has been up and down over the last six months,” notes Grass, the Cabarrus EDC has still enjoyed strong project activity with most new business leads arriving in August. In addition to the new leads, she explains that “many of the projects that we are actively working now were in the pipeline prior to COVID-19’s impact in the U.S. We were very excited to announce Prime Beverage [coming to Cabarrus County] in June and are assisting them as they work toward starting operations and hiring later this year.”

With new business comes new operations and new opportunities for hiring. It is no secret that our country has experienced unprecedented levels of unemployment during this pandemic, and while Cabarrus County fared well overall, we still took a hit. Hardworking citizens still lost their jobs. That is why economic development efforts are more important than ever in today’s business climate.

Economic Development Activity on the State Level

Economic development activity across the entire state of North Carolina is also extremely strong, both in announced “wins” for projects and for current activity. According to Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina CEO Christopher Chung, “There are 190 total recruitment and expansion projects currently in NC, and those active deals represent the biggest pipeline we’ve reported since just before the pandemic’s onset in March.”

Even with several months of market uncertainty, companies and consultants continue their plans for growth. In fact, Chung points out that “actual economic development performance versus 2020 goals are tracking at between 75 and 80 percent of year to date (YTD) targets for key metrics like projects won and new jobs announced.” He adds, “North Carolina is actually outperforming its YTD goal in terms of new investment, due to numerous announcements so far this year involving large capital investments. This is considering our aggressive 2020 performance targets, which were set before the pandemic and were calibrated to the 3-year average across 2017, 2018, and 2019, which were all very strong years in terms of performance.”

Unexpected circumstances and unprecedented challenges, like the ones brought by COVID-19, aren’t enough to derail our businesses. They will always have the experienced support of an economic development corporation whose goal is to positively impact the community. As for the citizens of Cabarrus County, they can count on the Cabarrus EDC adapting to accommodate the changing needs of businesses looking to relocate or expand here.

Learn more about all that the Cabarrus EDC has to offer businesses, job seekers, and more at cabarrusedc.com.

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