2020 Brings Changes To Business Recruiting

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2020 Brings Changes To Business Recruiting

EDC officials are hoping to utilize the USMCA to spur new growth in border trade such as operations at the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone. (Courtesy)
EDC officials are hoping to utilize the USMCA to spur new growth in border trade such as operations at the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone. (Courtesy)

The handshake, lunch meetings and traveling where necessary to meet promising prospects are all part of what makes economic development successful.

In 2020, some of those elements have been put to the side. It has been a challenge to deal with for economic development professionals. The same is so for the business world they connect with daily.

Local business growth has continued in 2020, including this new retail plaza in San Juan. (VBR)
Local business growth has continued in 2020, including this new retail plaza in San Juan. (VBR)

The trips to a company’s headquarters have been replaced with Zoom calls. Longer meetings that would normally be  across a meeting table are on a WebEx conference call. Going virtual is real in 2020.

“I haven’t traveled since March,” said Teclo Garcia, a veteran of business recruitment in the Rio Grande Valley, who for about a year has served as director of economic development for the city of Laredo. “You have to determine who wants to meet in person or who wants to do a Zoom call.”

It has been a jarring change where getting a sense of a market usually means face-to-face meetings. Economic development hinges in part on the building of personal relationships over dinners and lunches. Numbers and data on a screen are one thing, but seeing firsthand what a community feels like and seeing its infrastructure are best in person. 

That has often not been possible much of this year. Ramping up the visuals and presentations in virtual and online formats has become paramount to hold the interest of prospects until physical visits become more commonplace.

“You do your best when setting up calls to go virtual and make a strong presentation to companies that would normally come down for a visit,” Garcia said. “We’ve all had those online tools before, and we used them, but this year we’ve had to make better use of them to be effective.”

New home construction has been a positive trend in 2020, including this new home in Harlingen. (VBR)
New home construction has been a positive trend in 2020, including this new home in Harlingen. (VBR)

Rethinking Relocating

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling was accustomed to actively traveling in promoting his city. He spoke of past trips to China and often traveling to Mexico, much of which has been curtailed. 

“There has been a regrouping, a little bit of rethinking, how do we recruit now?” Darling said of 2020. 

Coming out of the pandemic, Darling expects the business landscape to change. The formats and technology that have become prevalent in 2020 may lead to companies making changes in how much personnel and staff they relocate to a new market.

“In the old days, a company would come down and relocate lots of people here,” the mayor said. “You can’t be totally sure of that anymore. There’s jobs that require a physical presence, but we now fully realize there’s jobs that can be done from anywhere.”

Staying Engaged

Economic development offices have hardly slowed down. Garcia said projects started prior to the COVID period have continued. His office has been supportive of positive local business trends such as local home and commercial construction continuing to grow.

Essential trade and commerce has continued throughout 2020 such as this in-bound truck at the McAllen FTZ. (Courtesy)
Essential trade and commerce has continued throughout 2020 such as this in-bound truck at the McAllen FTZ. (Courtesy)

In Weslaco, the economic development corporation has been active in helping local small businesses ramp up their e-commerce efforts. They teach how to better use technology to help with basic functions such as paying bills and payroll. 

“We decided it was a good time to get engaged with small businesses in our community and help them through a challenging year,” said Marie McDermott, the executive director of the Weslaco EDC.

This year has also been time for EDCs’ full acquaintance with a new trade agreement – the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Its possibilities can bring more manufacturing operations to the United States side of the border. Darling spoke of utilizing the lessons of NAFTA and using those experiences with the USMCA. McDermott hopes the new trade agreement will augment her office’s efforts to bring more agricultural and food processing operations to Weslaco.

It won’t be all technology and Zoom calls when COVID subsides. Person-to-person selling will remain essential when it comes to economic development recruitment.

“I still want to do face-to-face,” Garcia said from Laredo. “So much is built on relationships and you still want to get in front of people.”

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