PITTSFIELD, Mass. — If you want to talk business in Pittsfield, Michael Coakley is the guy you want to talk to.
Coakley was hired at the start of this year as the city's first-ever business development manager. His job is to find those companies looking to expand or move and get them to take a look in Pittsfield.
"It's been very encouraging so far and exciting. I think there are a lot of opportunities out there, both local companies and some companies that are national and international," Coakley said.
Coakley started the position a little over three months ago. And he said he's hasn't been short on leads.
"It hasn't been slow going at all. It was the second day on the job I met with a company that is looking to possibly come to Pittsfield," Coakley said.
So what exactly does he do? One of the primary things he does is network. He talks to real estate brokers and gets the details on commercial buildings they have for sale or lease. He compiles all of that information. He heads to economic development conferences and talks to state officials about funding for various projects or upcoming initiatives.
He perks his ears up when he hears a company might be looking to expand and then gives them a call. He's on the phone with site selectors. He asking local companies how they're doing and if they'd be looking to expand.
When he finds a company looking to grow, he gets all of the details. What kind of company? How big of a space? Are they looking to build new or take over an existing building?
"We get the details first and then put together a list of different properties and different options," Coakley said.
And then he'll tour the company's representative around the locations. If there is still interest, then Coakley will call together the "red carpet team."
Last year, Mayor Linda Tyer had launched a coordinated effort called the "red carpet team." It brings together representatives from the city, PEDA, PERC, MassDevelopment, and the Massachusetts Office of Business Development to meet with a prospective company and make a pitch as to why they should choose Pittsfield and what incentives the entities have to offer.
"I think when the companies come in, they really appreciate the red carpet team. I don't think they've ever been in a room like that before where they have all of the different organizations in one place. We've heard that several times now. It has been very, very helpful," Coakley said.
Tyer said her economic development strategy is much more targeted than the city had done in the past and Coakley serves as the "quarterback" for all of the entities in Pittsfield. If a broker has a property going on the market, they know to call Coakley. If a company is looking to expand, they know to talk to Coakley.
"Mike puts together some outstanding presentation documents for the individual companies. It is targeted to the individual company and what their needs might be," Tyer said. "The red carpet team serves as the pitch. While we've had only four or five meetings with prospects, Mike's got a list of 10 or 15 that might not have risen to red carpet team yet but are still out there."
In just a few months, Coakley has gone through that process with a few companies and has more set up. While neither he nor the mayor is quite ready to announce any major successes, both are confident that the companies liked what they heard.
"They take a long time to close. We've had four or five red carpet team meetings already with companies coming in, bringing in people from the state like MassDevelopment, Mass Office of Economic Development, PEDA, and PERC. We've had some very good meetings and we're following up with them now," Coakley said.
"We're feeling pretty good about a couple companies."
Tyer echoed the sentiment, saying she doesn't want to publicly say that something is close when it hasn't been finalized but that it does look promising.
"I don't like to get out ahead of things too much. I like to be methodical in our process. So while we are optimistic that we have some real hot irons, it is a process not just on our end but on their end and the decision making process. I am excited about who we've met with and there's several that are promising. But I'd hate to say 'yes we are going to land this one' and then have it fall apart for some unforeseen reason we aren't in control of," Tyer said.
Coakley said there hasn't been any one particular industry he's been focused on. They've been local and from out of town and range in sizes.
"We have a couple big names coming here in the future. Some of them are national companies, international companies. I can't give you the names. But most of the companies we are talking with are probably in the 40 to 50 employee range at this point. But there are some others coming in that could be a couple hundred," Coakley said.
It is tough to measure Coakley's success in just a few months. But, Tyer said the early indications are positive. She said she's seeing a lot more activity and she's hearing companies praise Coakley.
"Success will be measured by how many jobs we retain, how many jobs we create, how much capital investment are we seeing being made by private companies, how many companies expand or choose Pittsfield? These are very easily quantifiable measurements," Tyer said.
"There is a certain amount of how are we observing Mike as he interacts and networks with everyone in Pittsfield, whether they are a broker or a prospect or an owner of a building? How is that going? When I'm not getting calls from people complaining about performance and what I'm actually getting is calls of praise. That's another measure."
She said there has been much more activity with companies considering expansions or moves. The mayor also said she felt there has been "pent up" activity that is somewhat breaking out after Coakley's hiring. She said her strategy has made a number of entities curious about what Pittsfield has to offer. And Coakley said having that "red carpet team" established before he took the job lined a number of things up.
"A lot of this was set up for me to be here," Coakley said. "I really do see this as a team. I may be out there to help bring the companies in here but it is really the team that puts it all together."
Coakley had come from a sales and marketing background including working with companies like Kraft Foods and Maxwell House Coffee. He had assisted Nabisco and Palmolive with marketing plans. He most recently worked with Winstanley Partners as a consultant helping businesses. The mayor said that background has transitioned easily into his role with the city.
"What has been so wonderful for me is that we haven't had to do a lot of coaching. Mike has a lot of experience. He's professional. He's got great intuition. There hasn't been the need to coach him. We all have a real sense of confidence that he is representing us well," Tyer said.
Some days Coakley can be found in his second-floor office at City Hall drafting a plan for how a company can use an available building. Other days he's in Boston at an economic development conference talking with Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash. And yet on others, he's meeting face to face with a prospective company, helping them to smooth out any hurdles in the way of expanding.
But no matter where he is, Tyer said she is confident that he's representing Pittsfield well and getting the message out there that Pittsfield is business friendly.
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