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Published in Economic Development

MEDC leader: State must 'aggressively' focus on retaining, recruiting businesses

BY Tuesday, August 24, 2021 05:30pm

Michigan’s new economic chief says the state needs to become more aggressive in retaining and nurturing existing business and seeking investment from outside of the state.

Quentin Messer Jr., who was named CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. in May, likened the strategy to building a moat around the state to guard against other states seeking to lure companies away.

Messer Jr.

Messer described a need to “put the fear of God in states like Indiana and states in the south that have the audacity to come to our state and just brazenly entertain at our hotels and our conferences” to recruit business.

“We have what everybody else wants, so that’s why I talk about building that moat,” Messer said today in a keynote address at the Michigan Economic Developers Association annual conference at the J.W. Marriott in Grand Rapids.

“We’re going to spend much of our time and focus concentrating at the highest levels on our incumbent Michigan businesses,” he said. “We have to simultaneously have the most aggressive, the most effective business retention and expansion program in America, while also simultaneously having the most aggressive attraction program. A state like Louisiana, or Mississippi or Alabama, they don’t have as much to retain as we do.”

A 20-year economic development professional, Messer came to the MEDC from Louisiana, where he spent six years as president and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance. He described how economic developers in southern states view Michigan “as a foreign country” and that “too many people still think of the state as being on its back” in the depths of the Great Recession in 2008-09, or hold on to the images of the Flint water crisis.

Part of combatting that national image is doing more to “aggressively tell our story” about successful companies and to celebrate risk-taking entrepreneurs, and “making our businesses feel the love,” Messer said.

“In many respects, Grand Rapids is Grand Rapids because of entrepreneurship,” he added. “People were risk-taking, tremendous work ethic, and they figured out how to create great businesses.”

In competing nationally for jobs and business investments, Michigan first needs to win both regionally and particularly against other cold-weather states in the U.S., he said. Messer touted Michigan’s diverse talent base and the “superior product” the state offers.

“We have to make sure that we win what we should be winning,” Messer said. “We should never lose to another cold-weather state, to another four-season state, at all. It’s unacceptable.”

To encourage businesses from outside the state to invest in Michigan, “we just have to aggressively know that we can’t wait for the call, we can’t wait for the site selectors to call us.” All economic developers in the state, including the MEDC, need to “deliver J.W. Marriott-caliber” customer service and “go the extra mile (and) being responsive.”

“I hate the phrase ‘think outside the box.’ Think as if there was no box,” Messer said. “That’s what we have to do.”

Read 1669 times Last modified on Wednesday, 25 August 2021 09:53
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