From Local to Global Economic Development

It has been almost three months since I have provided an update on the Journey. The main reason is because I have had no time, thanks to my exciting experience participating in a program known as SelectChicago, Chicagoland’s first SelectUSA spin-off event for Foreign Direct Investment.


 

Since graduating college, my career focus has been City Management. One that I continue to be deeply passionate about. I had obtained a Master in Public Administration, with an emphasis in Urban Management from one of the nation’s top rated universities for city management. I had been an intern in four municipalities and went on to serve in a municipality for 12 years, with most of that time as the Assistant City Manager. My ultimate career goal had been achieved when I was appointed as a City Manager. Up until 2017, my entire career had been focused at the local level. Local government management in the greater Chicago area is my speciality. I had not learned anything about international affairs and trade.

As a resident of the City of Waukegan, Illinois I had heard of the non-profit, economic development organization (EDO) known as the Greater Waukegan Development Coalition (GWDC). This organization performs many noble services for the residents and business community of Waukegan and the surrounding areas. Their organization is unique; an EDO which also provides commercial development, festival management, and job training services. Their entire organization was founded and managed by private sector developers, real estate professionals, architects, and other professions.

Through a mutual acquaintance, the GWDC heard of my background and invited me to meet with them for assistance in a program that they operate known as SelectChicago. Naturally, I was confused since Waukegan, Illinois is more than an hours drive north of the City of Chicago and is not even in the same county.

They explained that SelectChicago does not refer to Chicago as a City but as a region. That is, from the perspective of foreign investors, there are three markets: East Coast, West Coast, and Chicago. This region of Chicago includes suburbs such as Milwaukee, Detroit, Green Bay, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Tulsa, Akron, Ohio, etc. If you are a person from the Midwest, your initial reaction is laughter at the absurdity that Akron, Ohio is a suburb of Chicago which is 366 miles away. But if you adjust your mindset to be one someone that is from another country, with having never been to the United States, Chicago is the only recognizable name of anything between the coasts. Contrary to what some Americans might think, the rest of the world does not know US geography as well as we do.

The GWDC group proceeded to explain that SelectChicago was created to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Foreign Direct Investment is a program of the Department of Commerce of the United States which screens companies that are interested in doing business in the US. Technically, investment refers to ownership of a company by a foreign entity by at least 51%, but it is common that FDI will bring partial ownerships in as well. The bottom line is that this is a way to bring new dollars into the midwest.

Naturally, I was curious as to why one organization representing the Waukegan area would spent time and resources assisting an entire region. The reason is that although Waukegan boasts a population of just under 90,000, it is still small when competing on a global scale. Therefore, the goal of SelectChicago is to create a team of municipalities to band together in order to be able to compete on an international scale.

I also asked, “Why would municipalities get involved?” In most real estate transactions, the community is approached first, to find out what the zoning is and then last, to apply for zoning approval and permits. It’s the private sector developers and real estate brokers that go out looking for the deals. The people at GWDC informed me that in many countries, government is the first place a foreign investor goes to in order to invest in the country. Therefore, investors coming to the US will assume that municipalities are the ones that know where the investment opportunities are and will also be the ones that will have information on their community’s workforce, transportation, utilities, and quality of life; the items of greatest interest to foreign investors.

GWDC had even performed their own version of SelectChicago the year before in 2016. They first attended the US Department of Commerce event for FDI known as SelectUSA in Washington, D.C. At that event they made contact with groups of individuals from China who are interested in investing in the area. Then they scheduled a time for the individuals from China to visit. First, the GWDC showed them Chicago and its ammenities. Then they showed them Waukegan where the Chinese delegation was introduced to the Mayor of Waukegan and a chinese business that had been in operation in Waukegan. GWDC put together a promotional video to commemorate the occasion.

The 2016 SelectChicago event video watched as I was being introduced to the concept by the GWDC in 2017.

At the conclusion of their introduction about SelectChicago, the people at GWDC asked if I thought such a program would be of interest to the greater Chicagoland area (i.e. suburbs). I exclaimed positively with enthusiasm. In all my years of economic development I had never heard of such a thing as FDI and my ideas started to pour out. I thought of the “new dollars” of investment that could come into the area. I thought of all the communities and their numerous programs designed to learn about and reach out to their diverse communities. I thought about the impact of this would have on the public, which would allow for small communities to be able to work on an international scale, thus another way to put their tax dollars to work.

It was at this time that the GWDC appointed me Program Director of SelectChicago2018. Granted it was a Pro-Bono consulting gig, but it would be a great way for me to promote me, my consulting companyCity Manager Insights, and grow my network. But I knew that I could not do this alone and like most leaders, I work best when I am in a team. So I contacted those individuals who I had previously expressed the most interest in this SelectChicago program which consisted of four economic development professional from reputable communities in Chicagoland. Later, two additional communities would join which created our six-member community steering committee, representing north, northwest, west, southwest, and south suburbs of Chicago, with two members of GWDC and me included on the committee. This steering committee was one of the best teams I have had the pleasure to work with in my career. They were all energized, motivated, and eager to learn. Some had extensive experience in FDI while others had zero experience (like me). But they all worked hard to achieve greatness.


While conducting bi-weekly meetings with the steering committee to plan our June 2018 event, we also recognized the importance of getting the word out to our municipal networks and educate them about FDI. We did this by presenting at local professional development meetings, conducting Foreign Direct Investment 101 and 201 seminars, and creating a weekly newsletter using Constant Contact.

Me in October of 2017 providing an introduction to Foreign Direct Investment in front of 100 of my colleagues at the Metro Managers Luncheon at Harry Caray’s in Lombard, Illinois with Michael Edgar, GWDC and Ginta Rubin, NRW.INVEST. I had only learned about FDI seven months earlier.
Our first FDI 101 Conference at the Enclave for Entrepreneurs at O’Hare. I provided opening remarks sharing my journey of how I went from a local mindset to a global mindset for Economic Development in a short time. I added my own unique style by paraphrasing Sir Alec Guinness that everyone has, “Taken their first step into a larger world.”
FDI 201 in the Illinois Science & Technology Park in the Village of Skokie. It was another successful SelectChicago event, with an even larger and more diverse attendance. The Mayor of Skokie provided a warm welcome. Two SelectChicago team members shared their experience promoting SelectChicago in China.

I was even able to participate in my own podcast! I am obsessed with podcasts and I could not pass up the opportunity to participate in one. Michael Edgar from the GWDC and I spoke to the host of the Strictly Business Podcast and SelectChicago steering committee member, Josh Grodzin.

Getting ready for my first podcast with Michael Edgard, GWDC on the right and Josh Grodzin, host of the Strictly Business podcast on the left, promoting SelectChicago.

One of the greatest achievements of SelectChicago is that we received special designation as a spin-off event of SelectUSA, the FDI conference hosted by the federal government.

The SelectChicago marketing material provided to us by SelecUSA.

SelectUSA is a U.S. government-wide program led by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Since its inception, SelectUSA has facilitated US$ 30.7 billion in investment, creating and/or retaining tens of thousands of U.S. jobs. Its mission is to facilitate job-creating business investment into the United States and raise awareness of the critical role that foreign direct investment (FDI) plays in the U.S. economy. With the SelectUSA designation we were able to not only attract more FDI prospects, but it also helped to legitimize our program for our regional audience.

Me with Caryn Kahn and Roy Czajkowski of the GWDC at the SelectUSA Summit in Washington, D.C. in the SelectChicago booth.

I first attended SelectUSA last year representing SelectChicago with the GWDC. Now we attended proudly representing 25 communities that had joined SelectChicago since we started the program. I also had 17 meetings lined up with different individuals with investment interests in the region. I had meetings with people from Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, Ghana, Japan, China and others. Our booth was visited by even more countries. It was a whirlwind of an event this year as while I was working with the booth and meeting with investors Wednesday through Friday, I was then preparing for SelectChicago the following Monday!


www.selectchicago.org

Our event was a huge success. We have over 115 Chicagoland government, international, and local business owners, as well as chamber/trade/consul general representatives attended SelectChicago in June at the Westin-O’Hare in Rosemont, Illinois. The conference included several panels and speakers, showcase tours, a “Town Square,” and many networking opportunities. The showcase tours brought international representatives directly to the Chicago communities (suburbs) in order to see the sites that were available. We also worked with a local GIS firm, MGP Inc., to create an online investment portfolio, featuring over 150 development projects, so that investors could continue to see the projects after they depart. One of our greatest accomplishments is that we connected 25 communities with many international chambers of commerce and trade consulates in the area. The municipalities and these two international groups had not been made aware of each other on a level such as this and I foresee many opportunities in the future for this relationship to grow.

The audience at SelectChicago preparing for the opening remarks.
Investors from China tour a facility in Coal City, Illinois on the Showcase Tours.
The “Town Square” devised by the SelectChicago Steering Committee, providing an opportunity for investors to interact with communities that were not a part of the showcase.
Me providing some introductory remarks at the start of SelectChicago in front of 100 people. I provided context and explained all of the work everyone had done to make the event happen. Between my time as an Assistant Village Manager, Village Administrator, and Program Director of SelectChicago, I’ve come to enjoy speaking in front of large audiences.
Me on the left and most of the outstanding SelectChicago Steering Committee, celebrating an end of the journey (and beginning of a new one) on Lake Michigan in front of the Chicago skyline as part of the International Trade Association of Greater Chicago’s annual event.

SelectChicago has been a journey in of itself, allowing me to continue to grow my network in both the public and private sector, create new networks in the international sector, all while sharpening my entrepreneurial, technological, and leadership skill sets.

So, what did I learn?

  1. The rest of the world does not know the US like we do. To them, Chicago is a region, not a City.

  2. There are many regional groups with different boundaries all working to help grow economic development in the Chicago region. The good news is that it provides many resources for investors. The downside is that they all do not share the same border and many have different interests, providing some challenges. Although nearly all of the groups we interacted with are eager to work together for a common goal.

  3. Foreign investment economic development has no borders. Just as in local economic development, where retailers think in markets, not municipalities, in FDI, the investors think in very large areas. In SelectChicago we consider our region to be roughly 300 kilometers from O’Hare airport.

  4. In FDI, development deals are not focused on incentives and tax rates as many economic development officials are used to at the local level. Foreign investors are looking at the long term and as such think about more macro ammenities: workforce, transportation, abundance of utilities (electricity, gas, water), and quality of life.

  5. The Chicagoland as the greatest concentration of trade consulates in the United States. This is an untapped resource for municipalities.

  6. Globalization is finally paying off for municipalities. Originally, it had been a major hindrance. Today, the US has the largest amount of FDI in the world. Municipalities can reap the benefits of globalization by participating in foreign direct investment. But in order to do that, municipalities must be willing to work together with other communities and celebrate each other’s FDI victories.

  7. Not all FDI involves real estate development. There is a large number of M&A/J-V interests. The benefit of a foreign company acquiring or joining together with a domestic US company is that the foreign company accelerates their time-to-market much faster than if they were to build it on their own (i.e. overcoming such obstacles as learning local employment laws and converting from the metric system of measurement to the imperial system). I believe that with the help of SelectChicago municipalities are uniquely positioned to be the nexus of this marketplace and provide soft-landings for such companies.

  8. When a municipality displays its demographic data on its website, it should display more than just the basic census data. It should dig deep to communicate its awareness and appreciate of different ethnic backgrounds. For example, instead of just indicating the number of people from Asia and their countries, the website should identify cultures and languages spoken.

  9. Communities looking to invest in FDI, need to begin by determining which companies in their community are currently foreign-owned. The easiest way to do this is to go to the local library and look up the Dun & Bradstreet database. With this information the community will be able to make contact with the local firms and develop a relationship with them. It’s not uncommon for more than one company to have its origins from the same country, since people from the same country tend to enjoy doing business with each other. Therefore, municipalities can begin to craft their FDI strategy around attracting businesses from a specific country and become a funnel into the US for businesses of that country.

  10. FDI is an industry onto itself. In every region there are numerous companies, independent consultants, accounting firms, legal firms, economic development organizations, cities, counties, states, and chambers of commerce, consulates, trade associations, and just about every other organization you can imagine, that are currently doing business in the FDI space. Most municipalities have a lot of catching up to do, but they can be successful only by pooling resources in a combined economic development effort.

You Know Your Marketing is Working If…

The Journey took an odd turn this week. I was informed by legal counsel of an organization in my industry that my company logo violates their trademark rights. Ugh. That hit me hard. Granted, when I launched DP Consulting, LLC in September 2017, I had no idea if it would last. At that time there was still a 50/50 chance that I would return to working full time for local government. The reason I created a logo was because when I commit to something, I go all-in.

To create the logo I turned to logotournament.com. For $250 many graphic designers from all over the world proposed different design ideas. The one I selected came from some person in Italy!

According to the attorney who contacted me the association was made between my company and the other organization by two individuals, unrelated to either of our organizations. In my 16 years in local government trademarking is something I had never had to work with. It came to much surprise when I was accused of copying the other organization’s logo. The attorney on the phone was polite and courteous and offered to give me time to think, offered to speak to my attorney, and also offered me time to remove the logo.

After I hung up the phone, I felt really bad; a feeling that carried through the next 24 hours. As Indielaw.com says, “That sinking feeling in your stomach. For small business owners, that feeling comes with the territory. Sometimes, it’s butterflies. Other times, you’re flying down a roller coaster. But when you get accused of violating a law, it can feel like an

300+ business cards in the recycling plus some logoed hats and items I had ordered in start-up phase – my next order of cards will be my fourth order in less than 12 months!

anvil got dropped.”

As with any negative emotion, your instinct is to fight. But after some coping and reflection techniques, it became clear to cut my losses. I pride myself in being an ethical and fair person and would not want to in anyway negatively affect another organization, especially one in my industry. It is also important to protect my professional reputation. As the attorney said when he called me, it was just about the logo, the name “DP Consulting” can still remain.

So the next day, I emailed the attorney, expressing my apologies to their client and removed my logo from anywhere I could find on the internet. I also informed my clients and business partners they were unable to use my logo in their publications. The hardest part was throwing away the business cards I had proudly designed and purchased. I have received numerous compliments on that logo in passing out hundreds of business cards this past year.

It made me feel good to just put the whole thing behind me and move on. After talking to some family, friends, and advisors, I came to realize that this is just a part of developing a business. This is what I signed up for to be an entrepreneur. Back when I signed up to be a City Manager I knew that there was always the hazard of having a public presence. Here, as a business owner, there are also hazards in the world of trademarking. Now I understand that I need to check in on trademarks. Lesson learned!

The key to being an entrepreneur is to stay positive. Here is the upside of this entire experience: You know you’re marketing is working if……you’re getting accused of trademark abuse!

At least I was able to salvage some of the logo I originally purchased. What do you think?

The Journey

So, what is the Journey? The Journey is exploring new paths. The Journey is opening new doors. The Journey is creating opportunities. The Journey is growing a business. The Journey is launching new ventures. The Journey is a mid-life career transition. The Journey is risk-taking. The Journey is experiencing new feelings. The Journey is managing new kinds of stress. The Journey is doing what you have seen many people do but was afraid to do it yourself.

All my life I felt the need to go against the grain. When I was young, I was generally going with the flow, but I have always been interested in the activities that were the opposite of what was popular. I have never enjoyed following sports or playing them for that matter. In band I played the Tuba. As a youth I played Dungeons and Dragons. My wife and I met in an Medieval recreation organization, which we still participate in today.

So when I selected a career, I decided to become obsessed with something that no one I knew had ever heard of before: City Management. There I was again, going against the grain. I became interested in this profession after discovering that I took pride and pleasure in supervising others during one my summer jobs. When sharing this experience with other, I was advised that I would be a good candidate for something known as “management.” To compliment this, I had been attending college and earning my Bachelors in Political Science. After completing a course in Public Administration and learning about how government operates (at the Federal and State level), I asked the professor and said, “is there a profession where you can be a manager at the city level?” He replied, “of course, it’s known as City Management.” He then gave me a slip of paper which allowed me to become a member of the International City/County Management Association. That year was 2001.

From that year until 2017, I pursued a career in City Management and I loved it! I obtained my MPA in Urban Management from Northern Illinois University, one of the top rated schools in the country for City Management. I worked internships in four different suburbs in Chicagoland. I started as a Management Analyst in Public Works in a suburb of Chicago and advanced quickly to the role of Assistant Village Manager. I then became a Village Administrator (similar to a City Manager) of a Chicagoland collar county community.

After a short time as Administrator I spent some time to reflect upon my career trajectory. As a part of this reflection process, I realized that I could not think of someone that had been in the role of City Manager and became an independent consultant and entrepreneur at the half-way mark of their career. Most professionals in my industry become consultants as an encore career having retired on a public pension. There I was again, going against the grain. Making a career decision that is not the norm.

As many can imagine this is both and exciting and frightening prospect. It’s one that many successful people talk about as the moment that changes their path in life and causes them to find a new calling. Something that drives them in a new direction, allowing them to reach new heights.

So that is my Journey. That is what I am doing now and this blog, this website, this entire business is all centered around setting new goals, trying new things, and discover how someone with a public sector background can be successful in the private sector.

The Beginning of a Journey

Today I begin my journey. Sitting in a coffee shop, on my laptop, on a Sunday afternoon feeling uneasy about what I’m about to do: start a professional blog.

I just read this statement outloud and it sounds so silly, really. Nothing I would say in this blog is anything that I wouldn’t share with any stranger in this shop if they were to sit down in front of me. Yet, I feel intimidated. I feel vulnerable. I’m genuinely nervous, even sweating a little bit. The thought of sharing my thoughts and feelings with the world is daunting.

Granted, it’s not as though the world is there to listen. My hubris is definitely in check on that point. And blogging is certainly nothing new, nor is the internet.

Then why do I create negative thoughts in my head? The same thoughts and worries you conjure up about what might happen to the plane during take-off or landing, what will happen when you make a speech, or go skydiving (something I have not and will never do). The thoughts are out there. The imagination conjures up ideas as to what people would be thinking of me as they read this and as with most of us, the theme is generally a negative one:

  • “OMG, he’s gone off the deep end”
  • “LOL, he’s in that phase of career now”
  • “Who does he think he is, Seth Godin?”
  • “LOOOO-SERRRRRR” [hand gesture on the forehead]

And those are just my friends talking!

So why start a blog? Why now? What makes me special? What am I different? What in my life is happening and why do I think I’m so special that I have wisdom to share and expect people to listen?

Nothing. I have zero expectations. I am not that special.

But, I have many reasons to start blogging.

  1. Writing feels good.
  2. The more I write, the better writer I become and being a good writer is an essential skill in the information age.
  3. It will make me a better person.
  4. Sharing knowledge and receiving feedback (see comment area below) is how we learn.
  5. Search Engine Optimization
  6. Marketing – I run a business, after all.
  7. I’ve always believed that in order to grow, you need to identify what activity makes you feel uncomfortable and leap into it.
  8. I have a WordPress site (shameless plug).
  9. I think I’m Seth Godin (j/k).
  10. My Mom has always been a fan of my writing and has always critiqued it – she’s a retired editor for textbooks – So this gives her something to do in retirement.
  11. I enjoy doing something new.
  12. I’m in a constant state of change and want to document my journey, so my children know what their father went through at the most pivotal time in his career so they can learn from him (as I was unable to from my father).
  13. My wife supports me.
  14. I am a victor, not a victim.
  15. I have many stories to tell.

There are probably others that I will not realize until later in life.

So that is it. My blog. This is the start. The beginning of a journey…….of storytelling.