Geographical Leadership Decisions - Where to Grow the Company
by Ray Gilley

Corporate leaders make critical decisions every day, from hiring top staffers to pursuing new markets for products and services to considering buyouts or takeovers. But internal decisions are only part of the CEO's job. At some point(s) in the chief executive's tenure, he or she will need to make critical decisions about the company's geographical position --- where to expand or even relocate. Knowing what regions are right for the company's growth is essential, and new markets are emerging as the "places to be."

There are a myriad of factors that go into a CEO's decision to expand or move a business, including: where they can reduce labor and operational costs, be closer to customers, find a knowledgeable workforce, locate available and affordable land or space and have strong infrastructure support. And today, research shows that corporate heads are ranking being near creativity or brain trust as a top factor.

No matter what the specific criteria may be for a company in an expansion or relocation situation, business leaders should utilize the resources of economic development (ED) groups to help in the process. State and regional ED groups, which are responsible for attracting industry and helping local industry grow, are invaluable resources for companies.

Like most groups throughout the country, the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission (EDC) has worked with hundreds of corporate leaders on starting up, expanding and relocating their companies. Our EDC has helped facilitate everything from selecting a site, to applying for available state and local incentives, to ensuring rapid permitting, to relocating employees, to establishing innovative R&D partnerships and workforce development initiatives between a company and the local university. In addition, our group is an advocate for business. We constantly bring the concerns of regional companies to our local and state officials in order to provide for an always-improving business environment. In fact, we began an unprecedented process a year ago that regularly gathers together leaders from similar industry sectors to discuss issues, market challenges, potential ventures, etc. This effort has proved to be a powerful business-building tool for chief executives and for our region.

It is these types of relationship-building and behind-the-scenes work that truly separate the good business markets from the great business markets. And corporate leaders deciding where to expand or relocate should definitely consider how a region is fostering business-to-business relationships and what kind of ongoing assistance it can provide.

Based on input from CEOs we've talked with, the following is a hit-list of other top consideration factors in expanding or relocating a business:

  • Geographic location. Southeastern markets, like Metro Orlando, are billed as gateways to Latin America and are often top location choices, in particular, for CEOs of European companies who want a U.S. presence but still want to be close to home.

  • Transportation and access. Factors to look at include proximity to international airports, rail and seaports.

  • Access to top research universities. The University of Central Florida, for example, is one of only three optics centers in the country.

  • Level of patents/innovations from area companies, which reflects on the brain trust that can be found there.

  • Industry clustering. Where are the majority of companies like yours located? There are obvious benefits to being located there, too.

  • Quality of life - which would include cost of living factors, as well as recreational/entertainment opportunities.

For chief executives and their senior teams, deciding where to expand or move a company is a challenging, yet exciting, process - one that has to be carefully thought out and planned. There are great markets in which to do business. And working with ED groups can help you get your business up and running and integrated into the community.


Ray Gilley is President of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. Visit www.orlandoedc.com for additional information.

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Copyright 2003 by Ray Gilley. All rights reserved.

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