FOCUS by David Lias Focus.

That was the main message that David Carlson of the consulting firm Short Elliot Erickson (SEH), of Minneapolis, MN, brought to the Vermillion City Council Monday.

SEH has been active in Vermillion the past year conducting an industrial park survey.

Vermillion now boasts three industrial parks, but none of them are highly developed. Carlson suggested Monday that city leaders should take one step at a time. Instead of trying to develop all three parks simultaneously, it should concentrate its efforts on developing just one.

"For the most value for your investment, focusing on those businesses and those strategies that have the highest potential for success and return on investment is key," Carlson said.

The city and the Vermillion Development Company, he said, should avoid spreading out to try to tackle 10 or more projects at once.

"Select one or two or three projects, and concentrate on doing them very well," he said.

The Vermillion community's strengths, identified by local participants who were involved in helping SEH conduct its survey, include a strong educational system, a quality work force, good transportation access, solid city services, flat land available for development and strong health care and city services.

The city's weaknesses, according to participants in the study, include a limited retail base, a mixed track record on developing a fully-serviced industrial park, and a lack of money for start-up businesses.

Members of the Vermillion will have limited influence in attracting a specific type of industry to the city, Carlson said.

The type of business that may locate here one day will be determined not so much by local recruitment efforts. Market forces will be the deciding factor.

"It really doesn't matter what you want when it comes to industrial development," he said. "When it comes to industrial development, it is entirely market driven. You can't make a business choose to locate in the city of Vermillion."

That doesn't mean the city can't or shouldn't do specific things to try to attract businesses.

"Really what we do with industrial development strategy is we identify opportunities that we can share with businesses � particularly businesses which are interested in expansion," he said.

Vermillion needs to focus on three things in its industrial development strategy, according to Carlson.

* What does the city of Vermillion, Clay County and southeastern South Dakota offer?

* What are the major economic trends? What businesses are going to be the major job creators of the future, and what do those types of businesses need?

* What do businesses want? What are the key things they are looking for when they are evaluating decisions involving location?

One of the most effective strategies to attract a new business, he said, involves developing a formal business and industry visitation program.

City leaders should visit Vermillion's businesses and learn specifically what may be keeping them from growing, he said.

"When you meet with them, you want to find out are their things preventing them from expanding," he said.

Issues ranging from regulations and financing to the work force and vocations may be limiting growth.

"Often there are things happening with businesses that you don't know about," Carlson said, "but they will be willing to share that with you. But you need to ask."

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