MCDERMOTT COLUMN: South Carolina wooing Fortune 500 real estate execs in Charleston
It's not an exceptionally large gathering by convention standards, but it could pay an outsized dividend down the road.
At least, that's the hope.
Some of the top movers and shakers in the corporate real estate world are taking a field trip to Charleston over the next few days, giving business boosters a chance to show off and sell what the region and the rest of South Carolina has to offer.
The name isn't sexy, but the Industrial Asset Management Council is considered a plum catch in economic development circles. The group is holding its spring conference at Charleston Place through Wednesday. South Carolina has been working to pull the meeting together for more than two years.
David Ginn, CEO of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance and co-chairman of the state host committee, noted that business relationships “are built over time,” and this week's conference is a “strategic opportunity” to press flesh, swap cards and put names with faces.
“These folks — you've got to have relationships with them,” Ginn said.
The spring conference is one of two get-togethers the Georgia-based council holds each year. The theme for the Charleston event is anchored directly to the port and its ability to move goods from Point A to Point B for manufacturers and other businesses: “Ship-to-Shore, Door-to-Door: Our Evolving Global Supply Chain and its Impact on Industrial Assets.”
State and local economic development agencies are all in. Major sponsors include, not surprisingly, the S.C. Commerce Department and the State Ports Authority. Gov. Nikki Haley is scheduled to address the group Monday, and port chief Jim Newsome will help lead a discussion later in the morning about the changes that the growing fleet of mega-ships are bringing about. Forty of the participants will tour the Boeing 787 assembly plant at Charleston International Airport on Wednesday.
The requisite schmoozing includes a waterfront reception at the S.C. Aquarium.
About 460 people have signed up, marking a new attendance record for the event. But much of the attention will be focused on and lavished on the 87 top-level executives who oversee the factories and other real estate holdings for household names such as 3M, Pfizer, General Mills, Hanesbrands, Johnson & Johnson, U.S. Steel and, naturally, Boeing.
“They report directly to the 'C' suite at major corporations,” said host committee co-chair Mike White, managing partner of Charleston Industrial and vice president with CBRE Carmody. “Their boss is the corporate treasurer or the chief financial officer. They're also looked upon by the executive team on matters that impact site selection, i.e., 'I went to Charleston and I got to see the Boeing plant and hear about the port. That's a place where we probably should have an operation.' ”
As White sees it, the talk at these types of conferences is moving away from poaching business from other states.
He said one of the buzz terms among Fortune 500 real estate executives is “risk mitigation,” or making sure their companies have backup systems so they can continue to operate in the event of a natural disaster, labor strike or other unforeseen circumstance.
Boeing South Carolina is a prime example of that type of thinking.
“All these executives are being tasked to provide risk-mitigation strategies,” White said.
So the pitch this week will be: Where better than South Carolina for a new manufacturing plant or distribution center?
This isn't the council's first visit to the Lowcountry. It held its spring meeting downtown in 2005.
The region has grown up a bit since that gathering, when Boeing South Carolina wasn't even on the radar screen. White pointed out that the aerospace giant's real estate director was in attendance seven years ago.
Since then, Boeing has hired thousands of workers and is building commercial jetliners in North Charleston.
“I'm not saying there's a direct correlation,” White said, pausing briefly. “But there may have been.”
Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.