Column: Rowan Jobs Initiative committed to county

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 11, 2008

$600,000 put into promoting Rowan since ’04
By Skip Wood
Special to the Salisbury Post
In the wake of the county’s recent (and sudden) decision to withhold funds from Rowan Jobs Initiative, some questions have been raised about the group’s accountability and success.
The Rowan Jobs Initiative, or RJI, grew out of an effort by county business people to market Rowan County after the textile industry collapsed. It was formed four years ago in the aftermath of the massive textile closings as a joint ó public and private ó effort to attract industry and create jobs for the county.
RJI, made up of all volunteer members, worked hand-in-hand with the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission, which served as the sales arm to follow up on all inquiries and leads developed by RJI’s marketing and communication efforts. In addition to the EDC and the county, the group has partnered with the Rowan-Salisbury Chamber of Commerce, the city of Salisbury, Downtown Salisbury Inc., Rowan Business Alliance and local businesses.
RJI focuses on bringing local marketing talent together to work for quality jobs. RJI feels that Rowan County lags behind other counties that have well-established marketing programs for luring potential businesses. With national competition for jobs coming from almost every county in the country, the goal is to set Rowan apart and tell its story. It is a very tough marketing challenge.
In 2005, the RJI Marketing Committee solicited bids from at least 10 marketing agencies throughout the region to help with strategy and implementation. Miller-Davis of Salisbury was one of the bidders. The committee hired the Lyerly Agency of Charlotte, which built the campaign, “Available for Work, Salisbury-Rowan NC.”
This initial marketing campaign ó presented to Rowan County Commissioners and presented in open forums to the public ó was very successful in creating brand awareness and generating interest in Rowan County as a place to do business. The Web site, www., had 2.8 million hits or impressions in less than a year.
In 2006, the Available for Work campaign had reporter coverage from Site Selection Magazine, Charlotte Observer, Salisbury Post and News 14 Carolina.
Also that year, more than 2,500 site selection consultants and real estate brokers who were previously unaware of Rowan County’s business environment received six different direct mail postcards.
In addition, advertising was placed in several regional and national economic development publications to tell our story: Rowan County is “Available For Work.”
In 2006 and 2007, the EDC received 185 inquiries or requests as a result of RJI’s marketing effort. Prospect visits to Rowan County also increased and most of those site selection consultants had said they had seen our marketing material.
Since 2004, RJI has spent almost $600,000 on advertising and marketing Rowan County. Because RJI has been blessed with both private and public funds, and marketing is expensive, the volunteers have tried to be very careful of how these dollars are spent. As a cost-saving measure in 2007, Miller-Davis volunteered to place advertising in national real estate and site selection magazines, foregoing the 15 percent commission that is standard practice with agencies. This saved RJI $14,187. The agency also printed and mailed postcards in direct mail campaigns for more savings.
The money saved is being used for more awareness and new materials on a new marketing campaign promoting the availability of water as a Rowan County resource.
Throughout its operation, RJI has submitted all its expenditures and resources to the county and city for review on a regular basis. Despite having lost a funding partner in Rowan County, we will continue to do our best in fulfilling our mission to promote Rowan County as a great location with a good business climate and quality of life. We welcome suggestions from the community on how best this can be accomplished.
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Skip Wood is chairman of Rowan Jobs Initiative.