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Episode 66: The Pivot – Five Economic Development Leaders Share Post-Corona Changes

The current global health crisis is impacting every business and industry – and economic development is no exception. This week on The Project, we interview five economic development leaders from across America about how their organizations are adapting and pivoting to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and help position their communities for recovery. Listen in for insights from Chris Camacho, President and CEO of Greater Phoenix Economic Council; Susan Davenport, Chief Economic Development Officer of Greater Houston Partnership; Tim Giuliani, President and CEO of Orlando Economic Partnership; Cecilia Harry, Chief Economic Development Officer of Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation; and Victor Hoskins, President and CEO of Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.



Andy Levine (DCI): So our normal approach on “The Project” podcast is to go behind the scenes of corporate site selection decisions, and we interview both company executives as well as economic developers managing these deals.

Patience Fairbrother (DCI): But, of course, normal has gone out the window with the arrival of COVID-19, and Andy and I like to mix things up anyway.

Andy: So for today’s podcast, we’ve reached out to five of the nation’s top economic development professionals, and we’ve asked them to share one thing, yes, just one thing. That’s what they’ll be doing differently in the next eight months of 2020.

Patience: So welcome to the Episode 66 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions”. I’m Patience Fairbrother of Development Counsellors International.

Andy: And I’m Andy Levine also with DCI and Patience’s co-host of “The Project”.

Patience: So Andy, this episode was your idea, and you spoke with each of our economic development professionals. First of all, tell me where you got this idea?

Andy: Right, Patience, let me ask you this. Are you familiar with Mike Tyson?

Patience: Mike Tyson, yes, I’ve heard of him.

Andy: Okay, any idea what he does?

Patience: Mike Tyson, the wrestler?

Andy: Well, you’re close, he’s a fighter. He’s a great prizefighter. So Mike Tyson has this amazing quote, it’s one of my favorite quotes, and it is, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” So if I apply this to economic development, every economic development organization in the world has a action plan, what they’re going to do in the year ahead. But COVID-19 has been a punch to the mouth to every economic development group in the world, and frankly, every person, every professional group, every company in the world.

But what’s interesting to me is how do they react? As we say in this, how do they pivot? And that’s what we wanted to get to in today’s episode. Take five respected economic development leaders… I’ll do it again. Take five respected economic development leaders and find out how they are pivoting.

Patience: Well, let’s get to it, Andy. Who are we going to start with?

Andy: All right, well, we’re going to start with Chris Camacho. Chris is the president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. For Chris, the change is to gain a much, much deeper understanding of the disruption to the global supply chain. But what he really wants to understand is which companies are going to be on-shoring or re-shoring in the U.S. and how GPEC and Phoenix can get an early beat on those companies.

Chris Camacho (Greater Phoenix Economic Council): So, obviously, COVID-19 is going to have massive ramifications for our economy, the health of our people, but also specifically global supply chains. And it’s leading to massive uncertainty for all of us as we steer our own economies forward and what I can tell you as a reaction to, it’s just in the last month that the security around goods, the redundancy needs of supply chain and how risk is now playing into the corporate psyche are emphatically a focus now of these companies. And so, certainly, tax and cost, the labor and the traditional site selection factors still matter.

However, this global pandemic has certainly changed the conversations we’re having with global corporations around the movement of goods, the shipping of goods, the ease of getting goods in and out of specific places in markets and will likely lead to even a more, I think, reinforced kind of regionalized system of goods making, goods shifting into supply chains and ultimately point of sale to try to get even closer to the final end consumer.

Andy: So, how are you trying to go about, I don’t know if it’s repositioning or right positioning Phoenix to take advantage of this change that’s coming?

Chris: Well, Andy, for the past three or four years, we’ve tried to elevate our focus centered around data sciences and really the understanding of [inaudible 00:02:16] market first and foremost and how supply chains work, say, within aerospace and defense or microelectronics or health. And we’ve gotten a lot smarter in the last, again, three, four years about the goods coming in and the goods we’re exporting. But you’re able to overlay that into, we call them triggers, where you can target specific industries, companies within certain industries by utilizing massive public data that’s available.

How you sequence that publicly available data with coding and algorithms enable you to really track every word that’s said within forward-looking statements, SEC filings, comms channels. And by doing so, we really begin to bolster our, kind of, research turn marketing turn business development work. So, we’re targeting the right companies within supply chains that make sense

Andy: And to gather that data, are you turning to an outside entity or are you trying to develop this capacity within GPEC or maybe a little bit of both?

Chris: Yeah. It’s definitely a combination. I can tell you as I sit with our data scientists, I get humbled every time I sit with them. I mean, they’re freaks, they’re wicked smart, unique personality individuals that challenge, you know, everything we do because everything is data-centric for them. So, we’ve built an in-house team that we’ve overlaid with long time experience in economic development that help them, the data scientists, understand what we’re searching for and obviously, they can determine how best to utilize software applications to get us there.

Patience: So that’s Phoenix and a peek into their approach of uncovering manufacturers that will be revisiting investment in the USA. Let’s head east to Fairfax County, Virginia and our interview with Victor Hoskins.

Victor joined the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority after successfully landing Amazon HQ2’s move to his former location of Arlington County, Virginia. Set this up, Andy.

Andy: My conversation with Victor had a completely different focus. Victor focused on how he was helping his team transition to the new “work from home” environment.

Victor Hoskins (Fairfax County Economic Development Authority): Traditionally, like many organizations that are government-related, you don’t necessarily focus on technology for your workers as much as maybe some technology companies do in terms of flexibility and mobility. As a result, when we found ourselves over a weekend having to go from, you know, just maybe five or six people teleworking a couple of times a week to the entire 47-person team from around the world all of a sudden all having to telecommute simultaneously within 72 hours, it was a big challenge.

And what we realized after the first week…I realized, is that many of them may not have had the equipment that they needed. So, of course, laptops were important and Wi-Fi access was important, but even more important was actually the chairs that they sat in because they would be sitting in them for hours.

Patience: So what did Victor do. He offered to buy everyone a chair.

Victor: So, we came up with a strategy for actually giving them a small budget to purchase a chair, you know, an ergonomically appropriate chair, computer stand, and a caddy, if they would like, for their equipment. Because many of them, have to set up in the kitchen and then break down in the evening so the kids don’t, you know, throw their work around. So, it was really one of those things where I felt, you know, it was necessary to make sure that everybody was able to work effectively from home. And it’s turned out very well so far.

Andy: One of the things you also told me previously is you have done this sort of now all-hands-on-deck meeting, I think it’s every Monday morning. Talk about that a little bit.

Victor: Yeah. You know, originally, we would do an all-hands meeting once a month and we never had, you know, full attendance. But with technology, it allows you to really bring all-hands together more often. And now we have a weekly Monday morning call that we’re all on. And, actually, we did it after that first 72-hour period. That first Monday morning, there were 47 of us on a Zoom call from around the world. And what was fantastic about it is people that didn’t normally…or had never even met each other, saw each other, and they all got to hear the same message at the same time and ask questions.

Andy: So, do you think you will continue that cadence of a weekly meeting once you’re back in the office and this crisis is in the rearview mirror?

Victor: Oh, absolutely. As a matter of fact, not only that, what’s so great about it is because of the technology, we’ll be able to bring in our international offices and our offices in California in every one of these. And it’s become very convenient to bring people together in this way.

Patience: So the next three interviews focused provided different variations on the them of business retention and expansion. Andy, tell us about your conversation with  Cecilia Harry, Chief Economic Development Officer, Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corporation.

Andy: So Cecilia and I served on the IEDC Board together for a number of years. And at every IEDC Conference we always find time to go for a morning run together and compare notes. So in Colorado Springs, Cecilia and the Chamber asked the question how can we help our existing manufacturers transition.

Cecilia Harry (Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corporation: So what we have done in these recent weeks is just really emphasize the importance of our Business Retention and Expansion program, and through that BRE program we already had proactive existing outreach happening in our region. But this time, with this significant change and disruption in our economy, we’ve used our BRE outreach to target primary employers, especially those that have the potential to pivot here in the near-term, medium-term to try to address the needs that we think are going to be coming related to not only immediate needs with medical professionals but also what we think is going to be down the line here with PPE and those sorts of extra pieces of equipment or protection so that folks can reenter the workforce safely.

Andy: So Cecilia, you mentioned, sort of, switching gears, are you helping companies change their product line? What might be an example of a company that you’re working with?

Cecilia: A lot of it is around supporting companies who have the potential to pivot if it makes sense. So a really great example in this community is we have a facility here owned by Philips. And they engineer and manufacture devices that help cardiologists in terms of explorative surgeries, and implementing stents, and that sort of thing. And so what they’ve been able to do here in the near-term is pivot to use their medical expertise to help address the need for parts to generate more ventilator supply in the country.

So they’re not necessarily creating the ventilator itself, but they’re using their expertise and their existing equipment to create parts that will help meet that supply here in the near-term for the country.

Andy: And I gather one of the benefits you have is someone on your team, someone on your BRE team who has a lot of healthcare or manufacturing experience. Can you tell me a little about that?

Cecilia: Yes, that’s come in really handy. Our leader for our BRE outreach, her name is Beth Taylor. And she came to us from the medical industry, and understands how all of that fits together in terms of front-line needs for healthcare professionals, but then also the supply chain on the back end. So she has been a go-to call for a lot of folks not just in the Colorado Springs region, but in the state from her past experience to talk about these needs and try to connect the dots between manufacturers and those that have something to offer and those that are in need of something.

Patience: As we keep zig-zagging the country hear we going to head to Orlando, Florida for a conversation with Tim Guiliani, President and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership. They took a different approach to supporting their companies – particularly small businesses in their community.

Tim Guiliani (Orlando Economic Partnership): Obviously, this crisis from an economic front is hitting nearly all companies, and in particular, we know that so much of our employment in Central Florida, you know, between 75% and 80% is through small businesses. And so, in order to have, you know, a big impact on the economy, we quickly mobilized to make sure that we are responsive to the needs of small businesses.

Andy: I assume it’s a website that you’ve created with resources on it. Can you tell me a little about that?

Tim: Yeah, the obvious resource to provide to small businesses was, you know, with so much information coming out, how do you curate information that’s very relevant and becomes a one-stop shop for a small business in our region and for that matter, practically, anywhere in the state of Florida and broader. But in focusing on our members and their vendors and suppliers and just small businesses, in general, across the region, we enlisted the support of our law firms and accounting firms to share all of their guidance and analysis that they were putting out as policy changes happened in real-time.

So, thanks to them, we are able to provide all the small businesses in Central Florida the guidance and expertise that, you know, some of the top-level law firms provide their clients on a regular basis. So, it’s, kind of, become a one-stop place for our region for policymakers, for small businesses, just to be able to go, and so far, over 15,600 times, this has been used as a resource in our community.

Andy: I’m looking at the website as we’re speaking. It looks like you have eight… Is it right that you have eight different webinars that are up here?

Tim: Yeah, we’ve really…you know, we had a couple people from our team just making sure that we were connecting our small businesses here with people that were, you know, directly making the decision. So, the person running our Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, our regional administrator from the SBA that works out of the White House, some of our leading members of Congress that were involved in the writing of these bills, so we wanted them to hear firsthand what was going on.

Andy: Patience, our last stop is Houston, Texas. We interviewed Susan Davenport, Chief Economic Development Officer for the Greater Houston Partnership.

Patience: The focus here was in shifting their focus among the different target industries that the region has been pursuing aggressively.

Susan Davenport (Greater Houston Partnership): If you take this back to about 24 months ago, we actually had done a complete analysis of our opportunity industry sectors. For instance, when we looked at energy, we looked at that full complement of companies and we focused on some of the innovation around energy 2.0, and renewables, and clean technology. We looked at life science and healthcare, and we added to that all of these medical innovations where technology would be prevalent. We looked at our manufacturing and our trading logistics sector. And the bottom line is, we’re still doing that. But the prioritization with the appropriate messaging is now the key.

We are uniquely poised for opportunities because of the potential for re-shoring opportunities and reorganization of supply chain globally. So, it’s really just a prioritization of what we were already doing with a sharper focus and a quicker response to what we did.

Andy: So, 24 months ago, you go through what would normally be termed a target industry study. And you come out of that with, I’m gonna guess 10 to 12 target industries that were recommended as a focus, something like that?

Susan: Actually, it was only five.

Andy: Five. Okay. And then post-corona crisis, you are, it sounds like, picking the two or three that have your best bet immediate opportunities. I’m hearing advanced manufacturing, I’m hearing the life sciences.

Susan: I think that’s our top priority is looking at those three sectors and saying where can we provide the greatest opportunities, and message, and get in front of those opportunities, and provide that workforce, a cost of business, and location, and really wrap around this answer to what we know companies are gonna need now.

Andy: And the other sectors that are lower priority, I’m not hearing you saying you’re abandoning those but just, they’re a lower priority right now. Am I reading that correctly?

Susan: We are definitely not abandoning them. We are actually still working those because opportunities… As one of our leadership team has said, you know, we’re going to play offense and defense during this particular crisis. We’re going to look for what are the opportunities that we see and then how do we also shore up our existing industries, and provide the assistance and guidance they need? But as we look at them, we will prioritize the identified sectors around what we’re seeing in the economy.

Patience: Okay. So let’s recap, Andy. Phoenix, Fairfax County, Colorado Springs, Orlando, and Houston, and five very different reactions and very different pivots to COVID-19.

Andy: Let’s take a look at the big picture here, and we’ll focus on the United States, but this also applies to the rest of the world. What we’re seeing as a result of COVID-19 is massive unemployment. Twenty-six million people have registered for unemployment in the last month. Now, all of the changes that we’ve heard of today, trying to identify companies that might reshore in the USA, trying to help our staff adapt to a new environment, the work from home environment, trying to help existing industries survive, these are all working towards easing this unemployment crisis. That’s really what economic development is all about—job creation.

Patience: So that is a wrap on Episode 66 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions”.

Andy: We want to thank our five guests on today’s show, Chris Camacho, Victor Hoskins, Cecilia Harry, Tim Giuliani, and Susan Davenport. They all jumped on a telephone interview with very little notice, and we really appreciate their time.

Patience: We hope this podcast has been a valuable resource to all of our listeners, but we also want to call out additional resources that are available on the DCI website. These include case studies on how COVID-19… Sorry, let me take that whole thing again. We hope this podcast has been a valuable resource to all of our listeners, but we also want to call out some additional resources that are available on DCI’s website. These include case studies on how COVID-19 is affecting cities and communities across the country.

We have marketing tips and best practices for shifting your strategy in light of the pandemic for economic development, tourism, meetings and more. And, later this week, we’ll release our key report on the topic of COVID-19 which includes findings from a site selection consultant survey about what to expect for corporate location decisions as we move towards recovery.

Andy: “The Project” is sponsored by DCI. We’re the leader in marketing places and observed over 500 cities, states, regions, and countries. You can learn more about us at

Patience: We hope you will keep listening. There are many more projects to come.

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