We asked a few area leaders the tools they use and topics they tout to “sell” our city.
Montgomery is always looking to draw visitors and events to town, to bring students to study at our academic institutions and to entice new businesses to locate here while also encouraging existing companies to expand. Economic development, meetings and events, education — attracting businesses and individuals to Montgomery and the River Region touches on all of these areas. How to “sell” MGM varies depending on the audience — who you’re looking to bring here. But somehow all of these e orts work together to make Montgomery an attractive destination.
SPACE FOR SUCCESS
Nim Frazer is owner and CEO of Industrial Partners LLC. The company has provided industrial building facilities in central Alabama for clients including GKN Aerospace, Federal Express, Hyundai, Rheem Manufacturing, Graham Packaging, Hager Companies and the State of Alabama.
Key among its projects is the Montgomery Industrial Park, developed nearly 14 years ago in partnership with Montgomery County under the direction of the Montgomery County Commission. The County provided infrastructure — roads, sewer, outside lights — and Industrial Partners came on board constructing speculative buildings using a “rolling option agreement,” so as one building is bought another begins construction.
Providing a quality speculative building in a location fully supported by municipal services is an attractive option for companies being recruited by the city and county. Frazer says he considers the Montgomery Industrial Park a critical piece of the puzzle in economic development, but he emphasizes that it’s just one piece. “There are so many places they could go, so Montgomery has to offer more,” he said. “We have a number of colleges and universities here, which is key to building a good workforce. We also have a regional airport and easy access to the interstates and rail, so transportation needs are met. The city and county work hard to provide economic incentives to make Montgomery an attractive place to locate a business as well.”
Troy University’s Montgomery campus is located in the heart of downtown. From the beginning, its student body has been primarily composed of young professionals, many of whom work downtown. The campus is convenient for them to attend classes while working full- or part-time. “We are paying attention to the fact that not everyone who steps on our campus is looking for a four-year degree, “said Dr. Lance Tatum, vice chancellor. “Some are looking for added skills, added credentials that will help them move forward in their professional life. Students may be place-bound – They are here working full time, have a good job, and don’t want to leave Montgomery and give up their job, but are trying to find a place where they fit.”
Troy Montgomery also has a long relationship with Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex, which has continued to grow and today encompasses the growth of technology in the River Region. “About 25 percent of our student population is military affiliated – active duty, veteran or spouses,” Dr. Tatum said. It’s a very exciting time for all the universities in Montgomery to see what this next industry sector is looking like. There is an opportunity to offer the first degree in a tech field or extend skills or identify a new technology field that is not yet being served by a university program.”
With its location, Troy has been a leader in downtown development, extending beyond its educational focus to embrace the community. It operates the Rosa Parks Library & Museum and Children’s Museum, which is one of top tourism attractions in the city, and the Davis Theater. Its attractive campus adds to the walkability of downtown. These factors are important to draw visitors, especially large meetings and events, said Ron Simmons, Vice president, destination sales for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. “When someone is planning a conference or a large meeting, or looking for a location to host a major sporting event, they are responsible for coordinating the movement and activity of sometimes thousands of people. Their job depends on finding the right fit. We take that seriously,” he said.
EASY ACCESS & HELPFUL HOSPITALITY
Event planners are interested in great meeting venues as well as ease of access. With its central location in the state, Montgomery is easily driveable for a regional meeting. For those who fly in, Montgomery Regional Airport is easy to get in and out of, and attendees can quickly get from the airport to their hotel or meeting venue.
In November the Montgomery Regional Airport announced a new non-stop flight to and from Washington, DC, a perfect fit those looking for access to state government or the Air Force and technology communities here.
Hospitality and cooperation also are an important part of putting decision-makers at ease. “The Chamber and the business community and the local government — county and city — work together,” Simmons said. “When they come for a site visit and see it for themselves, it makes it easier for us when we’re competing against other cities. The relationships are probably more important than anything. They feel at home, they feel welcome.”
Building relationships is what brings the process of selling Montgomery and the River Region as an attractive place to live full circle, said Dr. Michael Williams, president of Faulkner University. “The reality is we can’t separate student recruitment to Montgomery and recruitment to Faulkner. They are intertwined,” he said. “College students are looking for a home. They are definitely looking at the whole city as a value judgment.” Dr. Williams said Faulkner views Montgomery as an extension of its classroom, providing opportunities for students to secure internships, volunteer with civic organizations and become involved in charitable projects.
Faulkner’s marquee program, which is conducted as part of the Community School Initiative, is the adoption of Davis Elementary School and its surrounding neighborhood and community. Dr. Williams said, “It melds well with our faith-based initiative. In a realistic way, it presents an authentic message that this is a great college home — There are real opportunities to be a part of the solution. We feel that resonates with the recruitment of students.”
On the other side of the coin, Dr. Williams said Faulkner recognizes its own role in making Montgomery an attractive choice for economic development, working hand-in-hand with city and business leaders to develop job creation opportunities. “It’s all about talent acquisition,” he said. “As a contributing member of the community, we are helping to create the talent pool.”
Expanding on that idea, Faulkner’s leadership recently met with the Chamber of Commerce to help develop a new program that allows faculty scholars, students, small business owners and Chamber members to come together to raise the business quotient of small businesses. The idea was so successful, it was expanded and now the deans of Montgomery universities are meeting on a regular basis to talk about a collaborative effort to enhance area businesses and student activities. “It’s a win-win — It appeals to the business economy, and it’s a great learning experience for students. That’s a good thing for us, and it’s also good for Montgomery. In the culture of Faulkner, this is their city; this is their home. They are now FROM Montgomery,” Dr. Williams said.