MIKE GRELLA ADDRESSES TEDC
by Robert Marlin
Scott Martinez, Tyler Economic Development Council President and CEO, recently introduced a new strategy for the TEDC, “The Tyler Economic Development Council, as part of its economic development strategy, will bring influencers and decisionmakers to our community to assist in strategic initiatives and become familiar with the assets of Tyler and Smith County. It is important that we position our community nationally as a profitable business location.”
The first guest invited to meet with across-section of community stakeholders was Mike Grella, the former head of economic development for Amazon. The purpose of Grella’s visit during four days in May was to help evaluate and provide feedback on Tyler’s economic development competitiveness.
Grella is imminently qualified to take on the task for the TEDC. During his seven-year tenure with Amazon, Grella and his team created public and private partnerships responsible for more than $10 billion in capital investments, and the creation of more than100,000 new jobs in two dozen U.S. states and fifteen countries across the globe. Cooperating with hundreds of local, state and regional partners, the Amazon team constructed more than fifty million square feet of new facility development. Grella also spearheaded the economic development function for Amazon Web Services and cloud computing/hyperscale global data center business, which is Amazon’s most profitable business segment.
In reference to the potential projects the TEDC is actively recruiting, Grella states, “If you are looking around corners for the next disruptive technology rather than creating or driving it, consider yourself officially behind the curve today, disrupted tomorrow and obsolete soon thereafter.” Grella’s extensive experience in distribution, logistics and information technology is tailored-made for working with the TEDC. According to Martinez, “Those are the areas that provide the highest potential for new economic development for Tyler and East Texas. These are the primary considerations among the decision-makers considering making a move to our region.”
According to Grella, a shift has taken place in what actually drives economic deals now. Incentives offered by local communities had been the primary driver in the recent past but access to a quality workforce now drives most economic development projects. That strategy had worked well for many economic development agencies. However, Grella believes a paradigm shift toward a focus on education, quality of life, sustainability, and resiliency are the trend now for companies to make the decision to relocate. “Workforce and talent are the primary drivers now, particularly for corporate office projects.” Whereas, incentives are still an important tool to have in the toolbox, these other issues are driving site selection, “I believe it’s appropriate to focus on factors that are going to be more impactful and create a durable advantage for employers. A tax abatement is temporary. A cash grant is temporary. Successful metros are focusing on the talent pipeline first, and knowing that the employers will follow.”
To illustrate his point, Grella offers two examples. “When it comes to corporate office facilities and R&D, just look at Austin. Austin is not well-known for offering aggressive incentive packages, and they’ve experienced incredible growth over the last decade. Seattle offers very little in the way of economic assistance or expanded benefits—and Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple all have campuses they’ve established or expanded in Seattle over the last ten years.”
These are lessons learned that could easily apply to Tyler and East Texas. “If you drill down, particularly in the tech industry and industries where competition for top talent is fierce and unrelenting, there is a pattern that companies are going to where the talent pipeline is located, not where the subsidies are,” Grella concludes.