McLean: First set of meetings declare Toledo ‘open for business’Written by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
HANNOVER, GERMANY — No decisions were made, but a series of meetings with international companies at the Hannover Messe industrial trade fair helped declare Toledo “open for business,” said City Finance Director Patrick McLean.
“Nobody said [they would be investing in Toledo], but nobody would be expected to say that on the first day. That would be like getting married after the first date. Yeah, it could happen but it doesn’t usually and it’s probably not well advised,” McLean said. “The goal is to lay that foundation.
“This is just one part of a broader strategy designed to make businesses understand that Toledo exists, that it is open for business and we would welcome manufacturers, distributors and others who want to do business in our city.”
After a full day of meetings, both pre-arranged and “cold-call” style, the group deemed their first day at the Hannover Messe industrial trade fair a success. D. Paul Zito, vice president of international development with the Regional Growth Partnership, attended and set up most of the meetings.
The group, which also included Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and Deputy Mayor of External Affairs and Economic Development Paul Syring, met with several German companies as well as a few from the United Kingdom and Asia, Bell said. He declined to specify companies, but said they represented such sectors as renewable energy, smart technology, steel manufacturing and steel products.
“I think it went extremely well,” Bell said. “You’re just asking them to basically think about it and, if you’re going to do something in North America, put Toledo on the list of sites you might look at.”
McLean said there are plans to follow up with several of the businesses to gauge interest in further discussion.
Bell said none of the cities were familiar with Toledo before the meetings.
“A couple people had done a little research, but for the most part, no. But once we showed them a map, they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,’” Bell said. “It just reaffirmed what I’m saying, that people really don’t know where we’re at, even though they may have heard the name, and then when we show them, it becomes extremely impressive.”
More than 150 foreign-owned facilities are located in Northwest Ohio, employing more than 21,000 people, according to Regional Growth Partnership figures. That includes more than 6,300 employees at 49 companies in Lucas County,
McLean said the reception from companies was positive.
“Some will tell you they are interested, others perhaps not as much,” McLean said. “But when a business is thinking about expanding, instead of only thinking about New York, Chicago, California and places they’ve heard, suddenly they’ve got another place to consider and I think we’ve got significant competitive advantage over some of those higher priced places they might otherwise look.
“We need to get the Toledo brand out much farther and much wider than it is right now and this is a very good first step,” McLean said.
“Cold call” pitches were made to companies from Spain, Italy, Austria, Korea, China and more, McLean said.
“We were warmly received by all of them. However, the majority indicated they had no plans on expanding or locating in the U.S., let alone in the Midwest,” Syring said. “We did get some leads on companies that indicated they do have some long-term plans [to come to the U.S.]. Most have direct U.S. competitors and that is what has held them back from expanding into the U.S.”
Nonetheless, Syring said he’s already convinced the trip was worthwhile.
“Have we landed a multimillion dollar international Fortune 500 company? No,” Syring said. “But it starts with a handshake, it starts with a conversation, it starts with a smile.”
Bell, Syring and McLean, who were all visiting the fair for the first time, expressed awe at the size and scope of the fair, which is comprised of 6,500 exhibitors in 27 buildings.
“I was taken aback by the enormity of the campus,” Syring said. “We just scratched the surface.”
McLean also said his first impression of the fair was its sheer size.
“It’s almost overwhelming in scale,” McLean said. “There is so much happening there, but it’ s just fascinating.”
Bell said he thought the fair was “extremely, extremely large,” but well-organized.
Ultimately, the day was tiring, but satisfying, Syring said.
“It was a great first day,” Syring said. “I’m a bit talked out, if you will. A lot of talking, lot of handshaking, lot of business card passing around, but I’m looking forward to the exhibit tomorrow and another day at the fair.”
April 12 plans
Plans for April 12 include another half dozen scheduled meetings at the fair, more “cold-calling” and a tour of the Metropolitan Solutions showcase. The exhibition is one of the largest international platforms presenting “cross-industry technological solutions for urban infrastructures” and where exhibitors “showcase intelligent solution ideas for the urban challenges of the present and the future,” according to fair’s website.