Cultural Amenities: An important part of the Equation

How do we stay ahead of the game? How do we continue to diversify our economic drivers? Even as the economy continues its upward trend, these are the questions on the minds of economic development teams in Volusia County and across the nation. Part of the answer is to attract new business. But just how to go about it? It’s a complex equation.

As site selectors will tell you, there’s a matrix – a list of boxes to check off, that make a community attractive to the decision makers. While workforce, logistics and speed to market are among the top requirements, quality of life is another important factor.

Gray Swoope, President and CEO of VisionFirst Advisors knows a thing or two about what it takes to market the complete package. Serving as Florida’s Secretary of Commerce from 2011-2015, he was tasked with being Governor Rick Scott’s point man for spreading the word that Florida was “open for business.”

Today, as an economic development consultant and site selector, his understanding of the area’s offerings help provide insight to communities like Volusia County, when reaching out to targeted industries for consideration.

“If you look at a state’s strategy, the state is only as competitive as its communities,” says Swoope.

“In the tight labor market of today, talent attraction, retention and skill development is linked to place, with cultural amenities being part of the equation,” he offers.

Thriving cultural activities are natural attractors for talent. Providing opportunities for families and single members of the workforce opens the door to new talent and sparks a community’s growth.

When looking to capture the attention of targeted businesses like the aerospace, professional services and advanced manufacturing industries, not only is ease of the business side important but the quality of place also makes a difference.

“If you look at the role of economic development for Volusia County and how you position yourself to to 1. create economic wealth and 2. makes sure there is an includsion of all people that participate in the economic growth, then the quality of place matters,” Swoope says. “While some people may not see arts as important, the truth of the matter is arts and things from a cultural standpoint attract talent. If you don’t have talent, you will not be prosperous.”

Josh Bays, a partner at the Texas-based Site Selection Group, leads the economic development consulting division, helping with economic development competitive assessments.

Quality of life links directly to several factors, namely workforce and population, important components in an assessment. “When you talk about the role quality of life plays when companies evaluate candidate communities, it is an important aspect, in our judgement, of workforce analytics,” says Bays. “The school of thought is having a strong quality of life is typically correlated to attributes that contribute to a healthy workforce, like a strong population base and population growth. So, it’s one of the big boxes to check when doing workforce analytics,” he says.

“In the event they are relocating talent, it’s pretty obvious why quality of life is important,” says Bays. “You don’t want to move them from somewhere that’s attractive to somewhere that’s unattractive. You could have a difficult time getting them to do that,” he said.

Keeping talented staff was important when Keith Landy made the transition from Miami to Ormond Beach with his company, Germfree Laboratories, Inc., in 2001.

Expanding and diversifying the company started by his father in 1962, Landy found not only fertile ground for the business to expand but a lifestyle that is beneficial to the well-being of his staff. “We moved up here for quality of life,” says Landy. “Ormond Beach is a really nice setting for a business. Our clients are global and they like to visit us – you can be at the work site and there are plenty of good restaurants, you can take in the view of the ocean. In Ormond Beach, it’s really quality of life – there’s so much to do and you’re not fighting traffic getting there. That was a big plus for me.”

David Slick, Sr. made the move from Akron, Ohio in 1986 bringing Command Medical Products to Volusia County. In addition to growing his company, his wife Toni, an accomplished artist, has immersed herself in the vibrant arts community.

“We truly love it here,” he says. “The quality of life down here is enormously better. It’s not just the weather, it’s the art community also. If you don’t sponsor art and enjoy art, or at least make it available for your employees –and not just fine art, I’m talking about music, dance– they’re kind of one sided people, and that’s not what we’re trying to do. We want everybody here to have a high quality of life and be productive in the business community.”