Herald-Press article: Internat'l biz important to Huntington County

Source: Megan Greve, Huntington Herald-Press, 11/11/13

The United States has stepped up efforts to attract foreign investment to the United States, something Huntington County United Economic Development Executive Director Mark Wickersham said the county already takes very seriously.

President Barack Obama recently announced a renewed focus for SelectUSA, part of the United States Department of Commerce, to help cities, counties and states attract foreign investment.

SelectUSA was founded in June of 2011 to “highlight the many advantages the United States offers as a location for business and investment,” according to its website.

“Foreign direct investment is a critical piece of the U.S. economy,” Aaron Brickman, deputy executive director of SelectUSA, said. “What it means by the numbers is 5.6 million jobs, that’s about 4.7, 4.8 percent of the U.S. private-sector workforce.”

Brickman said foreign companies also contribute about 20 percent of all U.S. exports and create jobs that pay 33 percent higher wages on average.

Huntington County has seven foreign-based companies within its borders, more than any other county in the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership except Allen County. Those companies employ more than 1,200 people locally, Wickersham said.

“It accounts for a significant tax base in our county so we take international trade very, very seriously,” he said.

While it is important to attract foreign investment, Wickersham said the marketing strategy is very similar to attracting domestic investment.

Companies are looking for places where they can make a profitable investment so there are a number of factors that are a part of those decisions,” he said. Those factors are locations and value of the location “not only in terms of the actual real estate development cost but the value in terms of what are the impacts on shipping and receiving and so on and so forth,” the available workforce and the regulatory environment.

Another piece in attracting foreign investment is leveraging advantages of Huntington County. For example, the county is part of a foreign trade zone due to its adjacent location to Allen County.

“As long as the merchandise remains in the zone it is not subject to U.S. Customs laws governing the entry of goods into customs territory or payment of duty on those goods,” according to information from HCUED.

“A foreign trade zone in essence can make it easier and more affordable for a company that does a lot of importing and exporting products,” Wickersham said.

In addition, Huntington’s foreign companies saw advantages in Huntington outside of marketing strategies, he said.

For example, German-owned Hy-Line North America LLC, which a hatchery for the poultry industry, was attracted to its location in Warren due to the presence of Salamonie Mills and the availability of feed for its chicks. Helena Chemicals, a Japanese company, took advantage of a “very unique piece of real estate” that had a four-lane highway on one side, mainline rail access on the other and access to anhydrous ammonia and nitrogen nearby. Auger Torque, which is from Australia, was partially attracted by the availability of steel from the Indianapolis area, Wickersham said.

Another important aspect in attracting foreign investment, he said, is making the company feel comfortable doing business in Huntington County.

“To some extent it’s how to do help someone from another country feel confident and comfortable here?” Wickersham said. “The more we present ourselves as a safe place to do business that understands their needs as a company the better luck we have in hosting or welcoming companies that are either not from our country or from our region.”

SelectUSA has several ways it can help local economic development organizations attract foreign companies, Brickman said. One way is to help these organizations gather best practices.

“So, for instance, understanding local or regional strengths, what are the industrial strengths, what would be most attractive to the international investor community, where are the companies that might want to take advantage of the strengths in let’s say Huntington and how to go about ensuring they receive the message…how best to prepare to receive investors, understanding what efforts are already ongoing (and) how those can be augmented,” he said.

SelectUSA also hosts events all over the world to bring foreign companies and local economic development organizations together, Brickman said.

Wickersham said Huntington County already does this to some extent through the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

“The regional partnership…has a business development office that routinely travels globally and, for example…if (Vice President of Business Development Dale Buuck) from the regional partnership is planning a trip to Canada he’ll call me before he gets everything confirmed on his schedule and say, ‘Do you have any prospects or leads or anything you want me to do in marketing in Canada?’” he said.

Wickersham believes the new federal initiative will be beneficial for Huntington County, however.

“I’m sure that the President’s initiatives will help Indiana and as Indiana benefits that benefits us as well,” he said. “We absolutely believe in the regional impact of economic development activities so if there’s an announcement in Fort Wayne of a major company creating hundreds of jobs those are opportunities people in Huntington County might be able to do, too.”