EDC President and CEO
You won’t be in business long if you question the value of marketing and branding. From international corporations like Nike and Microsoft, to the local restaurant or realtor, the importance of capturing your market share by communicating value and uniqueness, then delivering on your promises, is universally understood. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that communities are in an equally competitive global market, where establishing our place in the minds of decision-makers results in business relocation, expansion and job growth. Since 1994, marketing the Space Coast has been the mission and the passion of Lynda Weatherman, the president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.
SCB: Explain the mission of the EDC and how long has it been in existence?
LW: We’re a public/private nonprofit organization, one among some 3,000-4,000 EDO’s [Economic Development Organizations] in the country. Our role is to enhance the job base, mitigate job losses, and develop policies and strategies that are supportive of business development. Back in the mid-80s, it was recognized that Brevard needed a unified strategy and voice for economic growth.
SCB: How does the EDC differ from the various Chambers?
LW: In some areas the EDC’s are a subset of the Chambers. Our main difference is we have a charter, which is tied to a contract with the county, to expand the job base in our region with a clear focus on high tech and manufacturing companies. The mission of Chambers, not to speak for them, is much broader; they represent the whole ‘food chain’ of companies. If we bring in a manufacturer, the entire food chain grows; they provide ongoing services and representation to all the companies in the area. Our role is to recruit companies, though the Chambers are significant partners in that process.
SCB: How do you facilitate expansion or relocation of a company?
LW: Those objectives are surprisingly similar, due to the fact that many of the companies that do business here do not have their corporate headquarters here. Therefore, when a large manufacturer with facilities in our area is thinking about expansion, those decisions might be made in New York, New Jersey, London or Rome. The process is as competitive as it is to get a company to relocate here. Thus, making the business case is comparable, the cost of expansion, the availability of labor, the various infrastructure and supply chain issues, along with incentives are almost the same. We have to make the case not only to the local representatives, but to the decision-makers wherever they are. We can never assume that because they are here, they will expand here.
Because their headquarters are not here, we have go where these companies – like Boeing, Lockheed and DRS – are headquartered or the division represented in Brevard is headquartered and ask, “In your long-term planning, when you think of relocating or expanding, what can we do to make Brevard County a part of the plan?” That way we are moving preemptively and not reacting or playing catch up.
SCB: Why do you target specific business sectors?
LW: Part of our economic analysis asks, “Where do we have a critical mass in certain industries, along with supply chain and vendor networks which are already functioning smoothly?” We ask, “What are we positioned to go after, versus what is simply desirable to go after?” For instance, it may be desirable to go after a big bio-tech company, but it may not be realistic. As the economic landscape changes, you ask, “What can we do to take advantage of that change?” Like the medical development in East Orlando, it may position us to be a great location for labs. Though it may be desirable to get a pharmaceutical company headquartered here, that may not be realistic. We look at our legacy, which is defense, high tech defense, aviation, aerospace, IT etc.
SCB: So these industries tend to cluster?
LW: In one sense that is true, but it never, never happens by accident, nor is it easy. They cluster because all the elements that go into making that happen have aligned; it is the end product of years of hard work.
SCB: What are you seeing, beyond Space, as potentially new industry clusters in Brevard?
LW: Right before our eyes an aviation cluster is beginning to emerge. From the data we have compiled, this sector, which we will broadly call “aircraft mechanics, service technicians and avionics,” employed 430 people in 2010 and it employed 420 people ten years ago – not a lot of growth. Yet in the last few months, Embraer has located its first assembly plant in the U.S. here and will hire over 200 people. AAR, another supplier to the aviation industry, announced they are moving to the area, employing 225 people. MidAir is going to locate in Brevard, with a projected employment of 450.
SCB: Has the paradigm of economic development changed in Brevard during your time here?
LW: First, the whole arena of economic development has become incredibly difficult and challenging. Just this morning I gave a presentation to the County Commission about the role of incentives in attracting companies. This is something we have to do if we are going to be in the game and be competitive. Ft. Meyers wouldn’t be a competitor to Brevard County, but they are now, because they have $25 million set aside for new business incentives. What is more, we aren’t competing just with Ft. Meyers; companies used to think of Florida as cheap land and cheap taxes, but Mexico is even cheaper and in Detroit, they’ll build you a building.
SCB: What are the top five things a community needs to do to position itself for economic development?
LW: This sounds self-serving, but you need an EDC that is held accountable. By that I mean a commitment by the community that is linked to a strategy, along with an organization to carry out that strategy. Secondly a collective awareness, by every stakeholder, of what economic development is, which sounds simple, but it isn’t. Third, you need awareness by leaders in the current business community of the significance of their participation, which means giving time to the process. I tell my staff they are the primary source of data concerning the pros and cons of doing business in this community. Fourth, a strong awareness that we need to collectively brand our community and in doing that, there is only so much marketing you can do for free if we want to tell our story to the world. Finally, the political leadership has to recognize their part in providing incentives that make us competitive.
SCB: What initiatives have Brevard’s leadership, particularly those on the Commission, done that has improved our economic outlook?
LW: The County Commission, especially during the downturn of the last few years, has been incredibly responsive to the recommendations of the EDC. Time after time they have stepped up to the plate. When I started in the mid-90s, the attitude was, “We have so much going for us, the Space Center, tourists and Patrick AFB, growth is going to happen.” The County Commission realizes they are the major stakeholder and that we have to guide our development or abdicate it. The cities have also been much more aggressive and hungry; everyone has skin in the game.
One of the most significant is the SNAP (Simplified-Nimble-Accelerated-Permitting) program that deals with building and site permitting. We’ve never seen such a sense of cooperation, between county officials and the private sector to streamline and make this process more efficient. Because building has slowed down, the cities and county are taking the opportunity to reexamine everything. The role of the EDC is often as a neutral party that understands and respects the needs and frustrations of both sides and helps to work towards solutions. We simply try to be respectful and courteous to both sides.
SCB: Is there discussion about unified building codes or more specifically about unified interpretation of the existing unified building codes?
LW: That is very challenging, since sometimes a company located in one municipality might have a parking lot in another. What we are trying to do, to move towards uniform codes and interpretations, is to make available to all municipalities a sort of ‘best practices update.’ So instead of having a Medusa, what we are endeavoring to do is find, “Who is the best at what area?” and share that information. We can’t afford inefficient practices, so reexamining all of this is one of the best outcomes of an economic downturn.