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February 5, 2007 

 Q&A: World Business Chicago’s Tom Bartkoski on Economic Development 9/5/2006
The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.

CHICAGO – Tom Bartkoski is director of international business development for World Business Chicago, which is a public/private economic development partnership in Chicago. He is responsible for foreign direct investment (FDI) and international data gathering. Bartkoski also assists foreign-based firms with all phases of location evaluation and site selection.

Before joining World Business Chicago in 1998, Bartkoski was a client services manager for real estate services firm Grubb & Ellis. Prior to Grubb & Ellis, he was a senior consultant with Deloitte & Touche Fantus Consulting. Bartkoski served in several positions within the economic development department of the city of Dallas.

He also held land-use planning positions with the city of Wichita Falls, Texas and Johnson County, Kan. Bartkoski received his bachelor’s in urban affairs from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and his master’s in urban planning from the University of Kansas. He is a certified economic developer (CecD).

In part one of a three-part Q&A, Bartkoski sat down with international expert Michael Muth to discuss economic development in Chicago and what role World Business Chicago plays.

Michael Muth: What is World Business Chicago (WBC)?
Tom Bartkoski: WBC is a public/private partnership founded in 1999 by Mayor Daley and the city of Chicago. It’s chaired by the mayor and has a corporate board that’s comprised of larger businesses in and around Chicago. They provide financial support and guidance on policy and development. They also provide leads for prospects and pro-bono assistance to supplement our modest budget.

MM: What’s your role there? What do you do on a daily basis?
TB: As international business director in charge of foreign direct investment, my mandate is to bring investment into Chicago. I work with foreign-based companies in this area (namely companies locating and/or expanding here). We have more than 1,500 now, which is a large base of foreign-based companies. Many do expand as well as those coming to the U.S. for the first time.

MM: How do you define economic development? How is it different from business development?
TB: The two terms are pretty much synonymous. The International Economic Development Council (the largest professional economic development association in North America) defines economic development as a program, group of policies or activity that seeks to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community by creating and/or retaining jobs that facilitate growth and provide a stable tax base.

Within that rather broad definition, business attraction tends to be the most visible and widely known activity. My work primarily involves attraction of foreign-based businesses.

MM commentary: This just goes to show that who you talk to determines how you’re understood. To me, economic development is what governments do to promote themselves while business development is what businesses do to create alliances or partnerships. For others, business development is just a euphemism for sales. Bartkoski further confuses business development as an element within economic development. That’s a new one to me.

MM: What’s WBC’s definition of the Chicago metropolitan area?
TB: To be consistent, we have to follow the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) definition set by the federal government since most important government metropolitan data is published on that basis.

The area includes nine counties in Illinois (Cook, DuPage, DeKalb, Grundy, Lake, Kane, Kendall, McHenry and Will), four counties in Indiana (Jasper, Lake, Newton and Porter) and Kenosha County in Wisconsin. This also allows use of federal government data for head-to-head comparison with other metro areas.

MM commentary: I wonder how much WBC promotes and works with counties in Indiana and Wisconsin.

MM: Who are WBC’s customers generally? Who are your customers on the international side specifically?
TB: Our customers are companies looking to compare Chicago with other cities and find out what Chicago’s about from a business perspective. They need solid information on other businesses and talent. Many of the companies I work with need to be able to access North American markets. Chicago is the best place to do that.

We start with a view of that 14-county metropolitan area with regards to real estate, labor availability and talent. It involves not only working with people but a lot of information flow as well. Many companies are rather new to the U.S. market.

We’re in the process of revising and expanding our Web site. Interactive mapping is coming. We try to focus on what the foreign-based companies most likely want. Chicago is at the center of the $400 billion continental economy (including Ontario), which is close in size to the economy of Japan. Quite a few companies have pulled us up on the Web.

MM: From which continent/region/countries do you find most of your clients?
TB: Direct job-creating investment comes primarily from Western Europe, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, France and to a lesser extent second-tier investors like South Korea, Australia, Ireland and Italy. About 90 percent of most investment is stealthy without a lot of press or attention outside of building an auto plant. A lot of people don’t realize many brand names are actually foreign-based companies.

It just shows how interconnected our economy is and how important it is for Chicago to get foreign companies here. Harris Bank is Canadian-owned by the Bank of Montreal. ABN AMRO has a huge global presence, is from the Netherlands, owns LaSalle Bank and has its North American headquarters here. Siemens from Germany is steadily increasing its presence. BP is a British company.

I’m working on at least a dozen projects. Some are fast with a short fuse and turnaround. Europeans are more deliberate. We work with them for a couple years before they resurface and say: “We’re ready to go.” We can get information out very quickly. We do have long timelines sometimes, which can be frustrating. It’s just the way it works.

MM commentary: Though we don’t hear much about the developed world in the local media these days, that’s still where the money is.

MM: Which industry sectors in Chicago have attracted the most international interest lately?
TB: Chicago is the distribution and transportation hub of the continent. Many airlines at O’Hare have cargo operations. Road and rail distribution are big, too. In recent years, we’ve had a bump in software tied to logistics and supply chain management. The Tata Group (a huge company from India) set up an RFID center in Naperville, Ill. and opened a key office in downtown Chicago.

We’ve had a resurgence downtown with tech centers like Motorola’s downtown center. There are also medical devices and pharmaceuticals around Baxter and Abbott. BIO 2010 is returning to Chicago after 2006. BIO has never come back to a city that fast in its American rotation.

We met with companies from Germany and Winnipeg that were here for BIO 2006. Chicago was rated by Moody’s as the most diverse economy in the country. As a result, foreign-based companies span a wide variety of sectors. Our organization focuses on office and industrial, technology and services.

MM: How do you and prospects find one another?
TB: First through the sources you might expect: the local business community and local and national consultants. I worked for a major consulting firm. Inquiries are often anonymous. We don’t even know who we’re dealing with other than the consulting firm that represents the unnamed prospect.

Local chambers of commerce provide leads. I’ve had a good response with the local consular corps and foreign chambers of commerce. We have nearly 80 consulates right here in Chicago. We have 100 international trade and investment offices in Chicago backed by other governments. They direct companies from their home countries to us. Like most economic development organizations, we are completely supported by our backers and the city.

That’s significant because consultants are looking for something they can get quickly. As a welcome mat, we do not charge for our services.

MM commentary: How would you like to work for a client who you don’t even know and takes years to make a decision? What a business!

MM: Do you go visit your prospects or do they come to you?
TB: In my case, travel is quite rare due to budget and time limitations. However, companies are continually coming to Chicago. The fact that we’re a huge air hub makes that relatively easy for visitors. There is no shortage of companies coming through to see things for themselves.

MM: How long does the economic development process typically take?
TB: A particular project might take only a few weeks or stretch out over years. The Boeing headquarters relocation in 2001 was remarkably short for such a major relocation with the time from announcement to Chicago start-up only taking six months. After we’re first contacted, some companies take even three or four years to decide what they want to do in regards to an expansion or relocation.

MM: How does your board of directors help your international business development efforts?
TB: The board, which is chaired by Mayor Daley, provides suggestions and support especially in helping to find leads and other ways to raise Chicago’s international profile. The board also helps to support the entire WBC organization financially.

MM commentary: Interesting it’s not mentioned that they provide strategic direction and direct contacts.

MM: How many of the 1,500 foreign-based firms have you had a role in bringing to Chicago?
TB: Over the last five years, I’ve been involved directly with some 40 foreign-based companies that have located here along with expansion projects, numerous projects in a team effort with other organizations like the state of Illinois as well as several foreign investment and trade offices.

In fact, we have had five new consulates come to Chicago recently and at least 20 additional foreign trade and investment offices open in the last five years.

MM: How important is having 100 languages spoken and 130 foreign-language media outlets here in attracting foreign firms?
TB: It’s important in relaying an image as an international city. Anyone coming from anywhere can be at home here. You don’t have to leave your language and culture behind. Many ex-pats are conversant in English.

That we’re in the center of the country doesn’t mean we’re isolated. It’s actually the reverse. A DePaul University study showed we have had immigrants from virtually every spot on the planet. We’ve had immigrants from every continent but Antarctica. We’ll bring in a few penguins for the Shedd and we’ll be set.

MM commentary: As much as I grumble about how insular many Chicagoans are, it really has become a more cosmopolitan city.

MM: Do you really sell Chicago as the “east-west nexus joining the markets of Europe and Asia and the north-south nexus of NAFTA”?
TB: They come here if they’re in distribution or interested in getting people around North America (particularly on the east-west axis). Rail traffic is from Long Beach to New Jersey. That runs right through Chicago because all the railroads run through here.

Most fiber runs through here too because it is laid along rail lines. It’s the idea that we’re in the center of things. Not only can they reach their markets but they can also take advantage of the international infrastructure, talent and services. We help them get where they’re going.

Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at mike@intlalliances.com.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.

Previous Columns in 2006:
Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of 1SYNC in Chicago, on Enforcing Data Standards (8/15/2006)
Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of Chicago-Based 1SYNC, on Data Standards (8/8/2006)
Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of Chicago-Based 1SYNC, on Data Synchronization (8/1/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Sportvision in Chicago on Creating Sports Innovation (7/11/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Chicago-Based Sportvision on What’s Coming Next (6/27/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Sportvision in Chicago on Enhancement Technologies (6/20/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Japanese Culture (6/6/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Japanese Expansion (5/30/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Compliance, Partners (5/16/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on Trade Shows (4/4/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on International Partners (3/28/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on Overseas Expansion (3/7/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Chinese Readiness (2/7/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Chinese, U.S. Differences (1/24/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Approaching Chinese Expansion (1/17/2006)
Click for 2005 column archive.
Click for 2004 column archive.


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