Quirky. As in, strikingly unconventional. Unusual. Unexpected. Unique.
Can quirky apply to economic development, and in particular, to the target industry clusters that regions are looking to attract? We think the answer should be a resounding yes.
In economic development, we all hear over and over that cities across the U.S. are targeting a very similar list of sectors for business attraction – and on some level, we all know it’s true.
But I didn’t know just how similar this list was until my team began a project to track the target industries of the nation’s largest 100 metro regions’ economic development organizations.
We’ll publish the results of this research in another blog, but in the meantime, by and large, a very obvious pattern is emerging as we collect this data: the sectors that so many cities are focusing on for business attraction are surprisingly and extraordinarily similar – if not exactly the same – and they typically cover some variation or combination of these clusters:
- Advanced Manufacturing
- Bioscience/Life Science
- Financial Services
- Transportation and Logistics
So what can communities do to distinguish themselves and their target industries, and help site selectors notice them more? They can take a cue from branding 101 and promote key sectors that are truly different – dare I say, slightly quirky – and make their location stand out from its competitors.
Here are just a few recent examples of regions that have tapped into their unique assets and strengths to develop or capitalize on very specific niches:
- Upstate New York is starting to see a “yogurt cluster” emerge, thanks to a boom in the demand for Greek yogurt. According to a recent New York Times article, yogurt manufacturers have chosen to locate in the region because of its abundance of dairy farmers and its proximity to New York City.
- The town of Solingen, Germany, has become known as the “City of Blades,” because over the past 300 years, dozens of knife manufacturers have opened facilities in the region. A story in a recent issue of Hemispheres magazine says that the town remains a choice location for blade producers because despite technological advances, there are still some tasks in the knife-making process that only certain skilled professionals – namely knife sharpeners, who are clustered in the area – can do, such as checking that the blade is at exactly the correct angle.
- Battle Creek, Michigan, also known as “Cereal City” thanks to Post and Kellogg having operations in the community, has built on its food production strength in recent years to focus its business attraction and development strategy more specifically on food protection, launching the International Food Protection Institute in 2009. As a result, roughly 2,000 people from all over the country have visited the city to get training in this niche area since the institute opened. The success of these targeted efforts is highlighted in a March issue of Food Manufacturing.
So, economic developers, go get your quirk on! Then, tell us about your community’s unique – or even quirky – target industry and what you’re doing to market it. We’d love to hear from you.