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How international business recruitment in the Charlotte region has changed with Covid-19

The Charlotte region relies heavily on foreign direct investment for job creation and business activity. International businesses employ more than 75,000 people in the region, making up more than 5% of total employment, according to a recent study by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.

Recruitment efforts throughout the region continue to be active, especially in the manufacturing sector. Of all the international companies in the region, 50% of them are in manufacturing, the Alliance’s study said. But with Covid-19 complicating international travel and the decision-making of companies in recent months, some recruitment practices have changed. Also changing are the reasons those companies might want to locate in the Charlotte region.

“The main reasons pre-Covid were the availability of a qualified workforce, logistics on how to get people and goods in and out of Charlotte and the overall cost of business,” said Sven Gerzer, vice president of the European sector for the Alliance. “With Covid, the focus has shifted a little bit more onto supply chain as well.”

After the outbreak of Covid-19, the Alliance began studies and initiatives to evaluate how to approach international businesses.

Gerzer is leading a team that is studying supply chains. The study will identify holes in the supply chain in the region, leading the Alliance to identify companies that could possibly fill them. Gerzer said the machining sector is one that has stood out. Health care could be another targeted sector.

The Alliance is also working on capitalizing on the potential reshoring of manufacturing from U.S. companies that previously took projects overseas. Steven Pearce, senior vice president for business recruitment for the Alliance, said a team led by Eileen Cai is evaluating those opportunities.

With new intiatives taking place, it’s still very different working with companies because it’s hard to meet in person, Gerzer said.

Despite Covid-19 challenges, several international investments in the region have been announced in the past several months.

Earlier this month, Italy-based FITT Group announced its $25.6 million investment to establish operations in Iredell County. In August, GNT USA Inc., the U.S. arm of a Netherlands-based food coloring manufacturer, announced its investment of $30 million to locate in Gaston County. In June, Ames Copper Group announced the $50 million expansion of its facility in Shelby. And in May, Holland-based fencing manufacturer ZND Group established operations in Iredell County.

The Charlotte Business Journal spoke to several county economic development directors, and they are also employing new practices for international recruitment. Virtual tours of sites are among the methods becoming more common, they said.

“It’s been pretty effective,” said Page Castrondale, interim executive director for Cabarrus Economic Development. “The technology is such that we can use drones to show the different aspects of a property that we might be showing somebody. I think just collectively, we are all just so used to having meetings on Zoom or Teams where that’s not uncomfortable or awkward anymore.”

Jenn Bosser, president and CEO of Iredell Economic Development Corp., said activity went quiet in March and April. Some international projects have pulled back, she said. But over time, activity has picked up.

Donny Hicks, executive director of Gaston County Economic Development, said he also believes activity has been fairly steady. Projects that were far along, such as the GNT project, continued to move forward. Others that were in earlier stages were postponed, he said. However, he said, activity is stronger now than it normally is in presidential election years.

Bosser added that while some projects pulled back, others doubled down on their plans for the U.S. and Charlotte region.

“For some, especially for international companies looking to enter the U.S. market, this might be part of their diversification strategy,” Bosser said. “It wasn’t an if, it was a when. I think that’s what we saw with FITT. … Getting that started in the U.S. market was important to them. Same with ZND.”

The restrictions on international travel have made communication a little tougher, Hicks said. Overall, though, he doesn’t feel Gaston County has been held back by virtual tours and communication. Once travel gets sorted out, activity could ramp up even more.

“To me, the most important thing is when people feel safe to travel internationally,” Hicks said. “If we can get that piece of it back, then we’ll be good to go.”

Gerzer said the new practices the Alliance has implemented are generating a lot of new inquiries from companies in recent months. While interest in strong, the effectiveness of these new methods will not be known for years.

“Foreign direct investment is a long-term game, not a short-term game,” Pearce said. “It is probably too early in the process for us to know how man of these companies are going to land. But I do think the strategies we are employing now are generating interest on the front end.”

Source: How International Business Recruitment in the Charlotte Region Has Changed with Covid-19, Charlotte Business Journal, 28 Sept. 2020,