Sending a message
New head of economic development agency plans to focus on results-oriented marketing
- January 28, 2012
From the window of his 19th-floor office, Martin Briley can spot landmarks across the James River in the South Richmond neighborhood where he grew up. The new president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), however, has been anything but a homebody for much of his life.
Before his appointment late last year, Briley, 58, had been executive director of economic development in Prince William County since 1997, but he has lived and traveled throughout the world. He takes the reins of the Virginia’s economic development agency at a time when the chief focus of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration is the creation of jobs.
Briley succeeds Jeff Anderson, VEDP’s leader for five years, who announced his retirement a year ago.
During Briley’s tenure in Prince William, the Northern Virginia county experienced rapid development and population growth. He brings to VEDP a strong emphasis on results-oriented outreach marketing. “If I have a prominent expertise of the many things of my background, that would be it.”
Before becoming an economic development official, Briley, who holds undergraduate and master’s degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University, taught in Macau, the former Portuguese colony that now is part of the People’s Republic of China, and spent several years building roads and infrastructure in the Middle East as a Honeywell International employee.
His economic development career began in late 1980s when he opened the Canadian market for VEDP’s predecessor, the commonwealth’s department of economic development. After the Persian Gulf War, he became director of the Kuwait Redevelopment Assistance Program, developing opportunities for Virginia companies as that country rebuilt.
Eventually he was promoted to international marketing director for economic development under then- Gov. George Allen. “This was a terrific time to be in the international marketplace,” he recalls. “We were slamming deals left and right.”
But he was often away from home. When he returned after one trip, his wife, Susan, had their three children, the oldest of whom was then 6, “lined up like the ‘Sound of Music,’ ” he says. “She said, ‘Children, I would like to introduce you to your father.’ ”
One of the reasons that he took the job in Prince William was to stay closer to home. Two of his children, Christopher and Sophia, are now grown. Danny is a senior in high school in Prince William.
Outside of work, his interests include golf, hiking and mountain climbing. In 2008, he reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, in Tanzania.
Virginia Business: How did heading the Prince William County Department of Economic Development prepare you for heading VEDP?
Briley: Northern Virginia is smack dab in the middle of a global market in the Washington metropolitan area; Prince William County is smack dab in the middle of that in the Northern Virginia area, a very robust market opportunity there and a very aggressive community.
I went there on a three-year contract, and I worked for four boards, three board chairmen and three county executives, continuing to expand that contract. What was prominent about Prince William County is the transition of leadership. They all maintained a laser focus on business development for that community. That allowed us to maintain a significant engagement in the market as an economic development marketing group.
While VEDP is a larger platform, the process is remarkably similar: understanding what the market is delivering, understanding your product strengths and your competitiveness, targeting what the market is delivering, and then executing marketing plans to get in front of clients and find a way to develop that relationship, understand what those problems are, bring them into Virginia and close the deal.
VB: How would you run the partnership differently than Jeff Anderson did?
Briley: Well, I don’t know that I’m an expert on how Jeff ran the department. I have great respect for him. He had a brilliant strategic outlook from his many years of corporate consulting. And he left a terrific legacy with initiatives and programming and planning.
I am results-oriented, [focusing on] outreach marketing. If I have a prominent expertise of the many things of my background, that would be it. I believe the Virginia Economic Development Partnership board recognized in my candidacy this results-oriented, outreach-marketing effort as well as having sort of economic development experience that included the state of Virginia and local economic development.
What I’m looking at now is how we’re allocating our resources with regard to outreach marketing. I walked in to find an intelligent and passionate team in place, maintaining Virginia as a No. 1 business location, very much engaged with the communities, very much engaged with helping them continue to develop product and very much engaged on new initiatives.
Gov. McDonnell has ramped up the economic development messaging from the administration’s perspective in a very, very positive and good and supportive way.
As I moved into the organization, I’ve looked at all of those great strategies and plans and programs that have been developed. … Now that they are maturing, it’s time to refocus on the execution of sales, the execution of outreach marketing to package these new robust and vibrant programs into the Virginia message and into the marketplace.
VB: Prince William was able to recruit a number of defense contractors while you were there. Would that continue to be a growth sector for the state if there are severe defense cutbacks?
Briley: There are a lot of thoughts on that. Clearly Virginia expanded greater than other states as a result of federal government expenditure expansions. And it’s reasonable to assume that a contraction of federal government expenditures is going to affect Virginia. The problem I currently have is I don’t understand the methodology or the prioritization that is going to be implemented. So it’s very difficult for me to advise leadership in any degree of specificity with regard to anticipated and expected outcomes.
The best we can do at the moment is understand our inventory of assets. We have 18,000 federal contractors in Virginia. We’re working with our communities, and in many cases, the communities are leading in their efforts to identify their inventories and try to understand what’s at risk, and, as the cuts come, understand as well who is possibly going to take those hits. Then, and only then, when we understand the problem can we begin to react to being supportive and assisting in a significant way.
So the only thing I can say to leadership and to the team is that clearly we’re going to be affected. To what degree and where, we’re not sure. However, we can go back and look at the base realignment and closure plan (BRAC). In the end, Virginia was the recipient of the consolidations, and we actually grew. We had 18,000 new employees come into Fort Belvoir, another 3,500 employees that came into Quantico as a result of BRAC, for example. There’s a possibility that in the [next] consolidations, the federal subcontractors, the federal agencies and the private sector subcontractors will look for more cost-efficient locations. And Virginia will be very, very competitive.
We have a good and reasonable story for the federal government agencies themselves. There have been plenty of successes throughout the commonwealth of Virginia where, in fact, many federal government agencies are located.
We intend to deliver that message in a stronger way beginning in February. We’ve put together a federal outreach program much more significant than the one that existed, although the one that was successful. We’re now joining forces with some of the local communities as well as consolidating some of our team members on the marketing side and creating a federal government penetration program. We’ll utilize the services of our congressional offices in Washington to make sure that we are aware of and alert to opportunities. We will elevate our discussions with federal government agencies as well as the General Services Administration, and we’ll begin to talk to many of the federal government subcontractors in the private sector around the Beltway on the other side of D.C. to determine what competitive advantages they may be interested in [pursuing] with Virginia.
I think that over the next six or nine months, we’ll have an increased pipeline of opportunity and be able to capture those federal government contractions that are exercised in a positive way in terms of a location or an expansion to a more competitive business environment.
VB: How has the organization changed since you’ve been away?
Briley: There is much more attention, time and energy spent on initiatives. It’s much more of a creative organization than I left it 15 years ago. There is a lot of activity in partnership with community development that’s more robust. So very, very positive initiatives and programming.
The CCAM [Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing] project is a very exciting project because we have our terrific academic institutions engaged in R&D with our private sector under this umbrella. In Virginia, we have lots of centers of excellence. But we are constantly fighting a stovepipe effect. Creating collaboration is of absolute importance to be globally competitive as we continue to advance in the marketplace.
[In my first weeks on the job], half the time I’ve been in the office, half the time I’ve been out. I spent a week down from Roanoke to Abingdon in what’s called the A-corridor and the E-region. I’d been down there as a tourist, but it had been 15 years since I’ve been down there professionally to meet with the economic development community, the legislators and the VEDP board members. I spent a week down there and was amazed at the evolution of our product and the evolution of the communities in their aggressiveness and preparedness and successes in economic development.
When I sat down at a meeting in Southwest Virginia, I had not only the economic development team at the table, but I had the legislative leadership, and the community colleges and universities at the table. Clearly they have evolved into developing a very aggressive, very strong, a very competitive support team for economic development projects.
The other surprise was the buildings and sites that have been developed. They have put a huge amount of work and money into preparing sites for future projects. At the end of the day, we need locations for our companies, and the challenges they have fought with over the many decades in terms of leveling sites, and getting water and sewer and fiber to these sites, they’ve overcome. I was really quite pleased to see numerous prepared sites that were ready to go.
Similarly, in Southern Virginia, I spent three days before Thanksgiving down there, and again, I saw the economic development team at the table, with the community college folks, the universities, the local leadership… [ready to present] their community to a prospective client with a nice assortment of sites that are ready to go. They have everything any company would want to have in the area.
Now what we hear about oftentimes in the media is about the unemployment rate. While we still want to address that [issue], that number should not usurp the huge successes that these communities have had.
VB: Tell me a little bit about how the VEDP works with local economic development departments. Would you recommend any changes in that kind of relationship?
Briley: We have multiple regions in Virginia, and each region has its own asset base either for marketing or for product. And all of our communities are fully engaged in economic development.
So we have a responsibility if not an obligation to maximize our knowledge of each of these regions and these communities: what their competitive advantages are, what the work-force situation is, sites, and salability and the sales points of all of these communities.
When we market Virginia, we market Virginia as a whole. And we have a great message there in terms of location and ports and airports, and a very significant and very competitive tax base. We have huge academic institutions, a highly educated, competitive/productive work force and competitive wages. That’s a great story for Virginia.
But when a company locates, they locate in a community. So we have a need to understand the communities and their message and their strengths. When we move into a community with a client, we rely very heavily on the community’s expertise to help us close the deal.
VB: When I have gone to events which talked about Virginia’s competitiveness and how it’s doing against other states, the one place that seemed to be a weak spot is biotech, especially compared to Maryland. Is there any kind of initiative that you want to push there?
Briley: Well yes, certainly. Maryland is home to the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and NIH [National Institutes of Health], and they have an awful lot of biotech companies that have spun off from those locations. They’ve had some great success stories like MedImmune. AstraZeneca has just purchased them. And they have grown exponentially.
When we look at the footprint of biotech in the United States, it’s prominently in the Boston corridor and in San Francisco. That probably also is 75 percent of the market. The other percentage of the markets is evenly divided amongst the next eight on the list of which the Washington metropolitan area is one of them, and the highest concentration is around it is Montgomery County [in Maryland].
With that positioning, Virginia is in a catch-up mode. Now we have an extraordinary footprint in Virginia of biotech companies. We have great hospital institutions that also have influence if not actual participation in that life sciences component.
We have medical schools that are very much involved in it. Great successes right here in Richmond with the biotech park. Prince William County has the innovation tech park with great biotech. Roanoke has biotech influences as well and biotech companies, Carillon and others. It’s not like we’re starting from scratch.
I believe life sciences are going to be a major job generator for the next generation. We need to stay in the game now because no one will be able to catch up last minute. We have to make sure we have the infrastructure, we have the academic institutions, and the training, and the science, and the R&D that are being produced. And we need to manage that due process.
We also have to have managed expectations in terms of jobs in investment which are outcome measures for the economic development world. That pie, a sliver of the pie in the marketplace is very small in biotechnology. It is an industry that has grown by leaps and bounds in narrow areas, but it will continue to grow just out of shear demand.
But [in addition to biotech] in life sciences, we also have health-care automation for example, health-care IT and robotics, surgical supplies. There are many different areas within the life sciences arena. It’s a very broad picture.
We do have a life science initiative that is under way that is supported and that is under consideration at this point.
VB: What’s the biggest impediment Virginia faces recruiting new employers?
Briley: Businesses look for a lot of different things. There are different industries that have different prioritization of needs. A data center is going to talk about fiber and power before it’s going to talk about work force. Manufacturing is going to talk about work force before it’s going to talk about other things. It’s not uniform with one exception: Every one of them is locating to make a profit.
So the competitive advantages all boil down to the bottom line on the spreadsheet. They want to be able to make payroll and have profits for their shareholders at the end of the day and have security in their tax structure. We have had a 6 percent corporate tax rate since 1972, and that resonates with that comfort level. So that is the key.
When we put packages together, we’re competing with the bottom line of other communities. The incentive packages that have been stitched together by some other states have been absolutely astounding. Clearly return on investment was not the first consideration of their packages. We have always got to look at that.
No one likes incentives. No one likes to do it, but it is an absolute necessity in this business. The competitive states and competitive countries are increasing the ante as we go along, and we need to keep up. We need to continue to demonstrate to the General Assembly and to the administration that we’re getting bang for the buck.
The skewed incentive packaging that’s under way now that’s occurring in other states is a challenge for us. We want to keep up, but at the same time we don’t want to allow exuberance to take us off the return on investment.
VB: Recently it was announced about new trade representatives in India. What will be their primary focus?
Briley: It’s going to be investment. We have two, one in Mumbai and one in Bangalore, and two contracts. The governor was over [in November] opening the office, so we have a full-fledged office there. They’re going to focus on different markets. For example, one will be on the IT market, and basically they’re looking for pipeline opportunities. They’ll be talking to companies who may have an interest in locating in Virginia and bringing them over.
We have high hopes, but we have managed expectations as well because we just planted our flag. It’s going to take some time to generate a broad outreach marketing message and penetrate that market in such a way that we are going to have the interest to the degree we can expand our pipeline and, again, have that deal flow occurring in India.