At times, trying to attract business to Utah resembles a spy movie. At other times it is like operating a research center.
While maintaining confidentiality and secrecy, those who try to attract businesses to the state may make dozens of telephone calls and pass along all kinds of information about Utah."It's a high-stakes game, but when you have something good like Utah to sell it's fun," said Rick Thrasher, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (formerly the Utah Economic Development Corp.), one of the agencies heavily involved in recruiting business to Utah.
The majority of clients (businesses showing an interest in relocation) want Thrasher and his staff to maintain confidentiality while they investigate Utah locations. That's where the spy movie aspects start.
Thrasher said in some instances he deals with companies through an agent and provides information about Utah. "They can contact us, but we can't contact them," he said. And when some company members come to Salt Lake City to talk about relocation to Utah, the name of the company is never mentioned.
Not even members of the EDCU board of trustees are privy to names of companies when they attend quarterly board meetings. Alan Rindlisbacher, vice president for business attraction, reviews the corporation's business attraction efforts and mentions prospects only as a plastics manufacturer, electronics assembly plant or electronic data center, etc.
In the business attraction business, leads are the most important part, obviously, because without potential clients there can be no attempt to lure a company to Utah from another state or expand into Utah instead of other areas, said Thrasher.
Leads come from executives of companies already in Utah, from magazine advertising (which will cost EDCU $50,000 in the current fiscal year), trade shows where EDCU either has its own booth or shares a booth with others or direct mail to a list of selected people.
Rindlisbacher said that in November, he mailed 2,015 copies of the recent Fortune Magazine article in which Salt Lake City was named the best city in which to do business. Private companies also have mailed the article to companies in all parts of the United States.
When a lead comes in, Thrasher and Rindlisbacher decide which are the "casual" one and which are "serious inquiries" so they can spend their time on the serious ones. They call the company and invite the appropriate people to visit the state, feeling that once people get a glimpse of Utah's pluses the chance of getting a company to locate in Utah are much greater.
Their selling points are the quality and quantity of the work force, transportation, the expanding Salt Lake International Airport, the quality of life and affordable real estate prices.
"We are constantly supplying information and making telephone calls," said Thrasher. Within a few months a team from the company comes to Utah for a visit. Sometimes Thrasher and Rindlisbacher meet them at the airport, and sometimes they meet them at their hotel the next day.
Some want to meet political figures, some want to meet corporate executives and some want to tour the area. One company vice president wanted to stand on Main Street and Second South and ask people what they thought about Utah. "Whatever the visitors want to do we do," said Thrasher.
Rindlisbacher said one of the most rewarding parts of his job is to call upon some Utahns to meet the visitors or provide a dinner. The response is tremendous.
After the company officials leave town, the communication continues, Thrasher said, with EDCU providing information and answering all types of questions. This could go on for several months. Rindlisbacher knows of a company that's been looking at Utah for seven years.
Then the day comes when a company announces its decision. Sometimes it's good and sometimes bad, but Utah has had its share of success. In the fiscal year ending June 30, of the 22 companies that EDCU had an interest in, 13 located in the state.
When the companies decide to go elsewhere, Thrasher and Rindlisbacher transfer their efforts to the other 58 companies that have a serious interest in Utah and continue working with other economic development organizations in the state.