Q&A: Dayton a good Midwest option for companies, consultant says

International site selector likes what he sees in Dayton

The Dayton area has strengths that will attract businesses already interested in an upper Midwest location, said a Dallas-based corporate site selector who toured the region last week.

To capitalize on those strengths, work on downtown development needs to continue, said Dean Barber, president and chief executive of Barber Business Advisors, a site analysis and development consultant.

While Barber declined to name companies he may direct to Dayton, he pronounced himself “bullish” on the community.

“You have a lot going for you” Barber said. “I sense that 10 years ago maybe the town was down on itself because they had lost so much. I don’t sense that now. I think there’s an optimism in the community.”

Barber offered the closing keynote address to the I-170/75 Economic Development Summit this week. But Erik Collins, Montgomery County development director, asked Barber to stay for several days beforehand so he could get a better feel for Dayton and beyond.

Collins wanted to put Dayton’s assets directly in front of Barber, whom he called “an international site selector.”

“He’s looking at sites, buildings here in the Dayton area,” Collins said. “He’s also looking at the workforce to see if we have a capable workforce. And also to see what we’re doing from a redevelopment standpoint, of our urban core, downtown Dayton.”

Collins and colleagues took Barber around the core downtown district on a golf cart. But he was taken far beyond downtown to Fuyao Glass America in Moraine, Caterpillar Logistics in Clayton, NuVasive in West Carrollton — and of course, a Dayton Dragons game, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and Carillon Park.

Here’s what Barber said during an interview with the Dayton Daily News at the University of Dayton Courtyard Marriott:

Q: What have you seen so far?

Barber: "I've seen a lot. I've been here 30 hours or so. In that 30 hours, I saw Carillon Park, which gave me an understanding of the history, the industrial history of this place. And then my friend Erik walked my legs off at the Air Force Museum — thanks, Eric. And then I learned that Warped Wing makes wonderful beer.

“And then I saw a ballpark last night that was full of people, that was packed. And I understand it is regularly packed with people.”

Q: So what are our strengths?

Barber: "You have a lot of good downtown development projects in the works. You have a lot of institutions of higher learning — the University of Dayton, Wright State University, Sinclair — who collaborate on workforce development. That's really important.

“You sustained some body blows 10 years ago. You lost GM, you lost NCR. But you’ve won some wonderful projects since then. I’ve see the Procter & Gamble (Exel Dayton) plant. I’ve seen the Caterpillar plant. I’ve seen Fuyao. I saw the General Electric EPISCENTER. I saw the Emerson Helix. These are 21st century companies.”

Q: Do you see possible sites for your current slate of clients?

Barber: "I typically work with manufacturers. Yeah, I think they would be … I was pleasantly surprised. You've got points on the board. You're winning. You're winning good projects. And the economic developers here are making deals happen.

“So yeah, I could bring a client here. Typically a client tells me what part of the country they want to be in. If they want to be in the Southeast, that’s where I take them.

“But if they want to be in the upper Midwest, then yes, this is a very good option.”

Q: Which specific sites most interested you?

Barber: "I saw property out by the (Dayton International) Airport that was pretty intriguing, that looked pretty interesting, that I could see doing some follow-up questions on.

“You have these two interstates, so you have good access. Typically, the corporate clients that I represent look at two things: They look at human resources, talent. And they look at transportation infrastructure. And you have both.”

Q: What are our weaknesses? What do we need to work on?

Barber: "You've got good plans for downtown. You still have some empty buildings downtown. I think if I came back here two or three years from now, the downtown would be improved.

“I think you know the downtown needs work. But it’s not a lost cause. So I’m pretty optimistic.”

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