Determining Whether to Expend Resources on FDI

This section discusses whether or not a community is even prepared for proactive FDI efforts, as well as the types of FDI attraction that can be undertaken with limited resources.

The level of investment in proactive FDI attraction depends on the resources (staffing and budget) and the regional assets you have. Some regions should think twice before spending too much on FDI attraction.

Voice of the Practitioner

The challenge is really about limited resources … In some of these places it’s a one man or one woman show. How much can they do? … FDI isn’t for everyone. It’s about time and money. There isn’t always enough capacity (to tackle it) … In some rural areas, real estate isn’t even close to being ready. They have no available sites that are ready to go. Companies don’t want to start from scratch. If you don’t have anything to offer, they’ll move on … In addition, there are workforce challenges. Some communities don’t have enough available workforce or don’t have the appropriate talent. These communities have to focus on improving their core businesses and assets before they think about FDI.
Jason Vangalis, Ady Advantage (regional consulting firm)


Some regions don’t have the resources or assets in place to invest significant resources to attract FDI.  Regions should assess whether they have the assets in place before expending resources on international travel to pursue FDI. Regions should also leverage state or regional partners to handle overseas activities.

Observations from Regional EDOs Successful in Attracting FDI

“You could spend $10,000 going to China, but then what? Without answering all the questions (‘doing the pre-work’), you’re not ready. It’d be a waste of money … Are you ready for FDI? I’d have [EDOs] answer a series of questions — maybe like a pyramid or a widget to walk through: Do you have surplus water or power or wastewater capabilities? To what level [can you accommodate this]? Or do you have plans to expand your capacity? … If you don’t have easy access to an interstate, no rail, and no power, this is the mountain you have to climb first … Every local community has to answer these questions.” (Rob Sparks, Executive Director of the Corporation for Economic Development, Madison County, Indiana)

Podcast - Chris Steele, Investment Consulting Associates

Podcast: Question: A lot of pursuing FDI — and I’m taking a very naïve perspective on this — but a lot of times, it involves foreign trade missions and things of that nature. If you’re a small economic development organization, is it really worth your while to get on a plane and go over and try to talk to some companies? Or should you be part of a larger, maybe regional, type initiative?

[4:45] “You do have partners that are out there that very likely already have an FDI arm … If there is a legitimate benefit that you can bring towards that FDI conversation, mak[e] sure that those partners that are already out there in the FDI arena are aware of that advantage, [help] them to be able to help you make [your] case.”

[5:10] “The other part that people often overlook is: just as much as we have foreign trade missions overseas, foreign nationals, foreign countries, foreign regions very often have their own missions here in the States. And the more you can be aware of those, through the consulates or even through international business organizations, you can still make those relationships without actually leaving your own home community or going very far at all.”


There is a range of approaches – from lower to higher level of resources – depending on budget, regional assets, and strategy. Below, see the range of approaches to FDI from least to highly resource intensive (based on interviews conducted with EDOs):


Racine County Economic Development Corporation (Wisconsin)

They no longer travel abroad: “In 2014, we changed [our strategy]: with additional resources at the state level, we determined they (state) and Milwaukee 7 (their regional organization) had greater capacity to be lead prospector at Hanover Messe.  Now we travel less internationally but rely on the knowledge we gained from attending these international tradeshows. We learn a lot. One (foreign company) established a location in Racine because of our travels. So from that perspective, as well as the experience gained, we count this as a success. We dedicated resources to this effort for a number of years, however, given other demands and staff capacity, we needed to walk away (from proactive FDI attraction). We apply the experience and knowledge gained, along with our technical capabilities and partnerships, to translating leads to prospects to investment.”— Jenny Trick, Executive Director (Note: In 2017 Foxconn announced that it chose Racine for its U.S. factory location.)

Golden Triangle Development -- THE LINK (Mississippi)

They have been so successful in business attraction, including attracting FDI worth billions of dollars, that it has been featured in stories by 60 Minutes and NPR: “We don’t [travel abroad]. We don’t have the time or the money to market internationally. The state does [the marketing and outreach]. They’ve got offices. They make sure we get on the short list. [International outreach] is critical. But we let them do that, let them build relationships, let them work deals …You know what we do? We work the site selection consultants. That’s where we create our relationships. The Deloittes, [etc.] – we develop relationships with those guys. We’ve built our niche with those consultants that represent those foreign investors. We’ve got a good enough relationship with them. They know how we roll, they know our pain threshold. They’ll call us and say you’re 1 of 4 that we’re looking at.”– Joe Max Higgins, CEO


Podcast: Chris Steele, COO & President North America, Investment Consulting Associates (global management consultants) interviewed on Regional Business Talk podcast by Ed Burghard.