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Welcome to Economic Engines, where each week we spotlight a community’s economic development initiatives, challenges and opportunities related to attracting corporate relocations, business expansions, job creation and investment.This week, we hear from Sally Bane, the longtime economic development director for Plano, who tells us where the city is heading next after attracting Toyota’s North American headquarters.
In addition to Toyota, what major corporate relocations and expansion has Plano won recently? Plano had a long history of successfully attracting companies and helping them expand. But what really seemed to hit the global consciousness was when Toyota announced they were moving their North American headquarters to Plano. Then a series of other major projects which in and of themselves would have been monumental for the community occurred, including Liberty Mutual, JP Morgan Chase and FedEx Office. In the last year we’ve had some great projects, the most notable of which would be the ability to retain and help expand (Japanese system integration company) NTT Data and keep their North American headquarters in Plano. All of these projects that have occurred in the last three-plus years individually would have been major headlines. Collectively, it is jaw-dropping the amount of growth, jobs and investment that these companies represent.So success breeds success? There was something you wrote recently about there being a herd mentality(for companies and development projects choosing Plano and other traditional relocation hot spots). I would remind people that, as anybody who has watched National Geographic knows, it’s when you leave the herd that you get picked off. This is absolutely the place that people need to be. There’s a reason for that.How many jobs are being added by NTT Data? It’s going to add about 1,600 jobs to the approximately 2,100 jobs that they had in our community. There isn’t a better contemporary example of why it’s important to keep the companies you have and capitalize on the ability of those companies to expand.What’s Plano’s secret to landing and expanding these big projects? If it were a true secret, maybe I could bottle it, market it, trademark it. But the fact of the matter is, this community has long prepared itself to be the job creation center in North Texas. That’s what we’ve focused on, and that’s what we’ve put a lot of energy and effort into. It’s the ability to capitalize on all of the really amazing assets this community has including and foremost its really talented and educated workforce.At what level does that start? You always have to acknowledge that this community was built by attracting individuals who wanted their children who wanted their children to attend one of the best public school systems in the country. So that set into motion attracting the kinds of residents who valued education, who had high levels of education themselves. It starts to become clear to companies that they need to be located where their workforce is. That becomes something that feeds on itself. You maintain a good school district, you still have people who seek it out, and then the companies seek out those individuals.What’s in your new-business pipeline right now? We are so not done. We had a couple of projects in this week. We had a headquarters project in last week. We are still seeing a lot of activity. These really important, prestigious headquarters that aren’t large numbers of jobs — generally in the 100 range — but the jobs that they have are highly compensated positions. The headquarters of these companies that we are capturing the attention of have a lot of business-related and meeting travel that comes into our community and that brings a great deal of sales tax benefit as well as hotel-motel occupancy tax benefit. Meeting rooms, all kinds of ancillary or multiplier activity. They aren’t big numbers, but they are extremely prestigous.Are you talking about companies like Boeing? Boeing is the public one that I can talk about but we’ve got one that’s teed up for announcement (in mid-September) and another one for development. They’re all very similar — very prestigious divisional headquarters.What are some of Plano’s challenges for winning corporate relocations? You can’t do a lot of generalization in this business, but one of the challenges for us is, although we have a good economic development incentive fund, it doesn’t compare to what some of our competitors have. I’m not just talking about competitors in the region. I’m talking about nationally.Such as? Apple is going to Iowa. They’re going to have 50 jobs in a data center, and the state of Iowa and the city they’re going to approved a 71 percent tax abatement for 20 years. What everyone who is overly concerned about their local competition needs to realize is, this is bigger than that. It’s even bigger than domestically. We have to think about our global competition for these projects. That’s a big difference maker for our program in Plano. We don’t just think about what kind of competition we have in Texas of in the United States. We think about how we’re competing globally for things. We think we’re competing on the global stage.What put Plano on that plane? You can’t just say it’s the relocations of the past several years. We’ve had major international headquarters here for a very long time. The biggest significant one dates back to 1985 with Frito-Lay. You’ve got major international companies that have been here. We felt like we were always a global competitor. We’re just a bigger one now than we used to be.The Dallas Regional Chamber is focusing on that too. Did Toyota open that door for the broader North Texas community? It’s hard to say. It probably threw a spotlight on us and on the region. But we’ve been trying to cultivate that for a while, so I can’t say that is an unexpected reaction, because we’ve been preparing for that for a long time.