Foreign investors looking for 'level of trust' with Longview
Jimmy Daniell Isaac
July 30, 2017 at 4 a.m.
Updated July 31, 2017 at 3:15 p.m.
In May 2014, premium leather supplier TanTec Leather picked a site in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to build a new tannery.
Wayne Mansfield, who was executive director of Vicksburg's economic group at that time, recalled this week a conversation he heard involving then-Gov. Rick Perry.
"He was pushing the project very hard (to locate in Texas), from what I understand," Mansfield said. "Tyson Foods is a big supplier for TanTec, and one of the vice presidents of Tyson had asked the CEO, 'Why did you choose Vicksburg?' and he said it felt like home."
Mansfield now is president and CEO of Longview Economic Development Corp. He also is a founding member of the European American Investment Council and wants Longview to become home to the similar foreign direct investment projects such as TanTec — which created 366 new jobs and brought $10.1 million in corporate investment to Vicksburg's 24,000 residents.
"That's what I was told," Mansfield said of the conversation involving Perry. "Again, it's gaining that level of trust that we're family and we're going to deliver, and (European investors) expect that."
This past week, LEDCO welcomed other founding members of the European American Investment Council to develop a pipeline of communication that will attract European companies to Longview.
Mansfield also has outlined a LEDCO budget proposal aimed at boosting staff travel, future property acquisition and updated data on local business parks, workforce training and other means toward generating more foreign direct investment leads.
The budget, which will considered next month by members of the LEDCO board of directors and the City Council, balances money the agency already has set aside for implementation of development strategies from the recently approved small area plans for downtown Longview and the Interstate 20 corridor.
"We've also embarked on updating our overall strategic plan and refreshing the data," he said. "Those will probably be the big things, and then the (Guthrie Creek) trail project, which those funds are already allocated."
European American Investment Council members visited Longview and several other cities as part of a tour organized by Team Texas, an economic development arm of Gov. Greg Abbott's office. While in Longview, they toured business parks around the city, East Texas Regional Airport and LeTourneau University's aviation center and talked specifics about the local workforce, manufacturing capabilities and what industries would make the best fit for Gregg County, Mansfield said.
"They were meeting with Conroe, Brownsville, McAllen, Waco, and I'm not sure where else," he said, "but the majority of their time was spent here."
Before leaving Longview late Monday, members of the investment council joined Mansfield in "a debriefing" about potential manufacturers that could be great fits for Longview, he said.
"Some are aviation-related, and there are some firearms manufacturers that we're certainly going to try to pursue," he said. "Of course, that skill set is here, (as are) chemicals and plastics too with Eastman and our plastics companies, and food processing. They see what we can provide there."
The relationship between Mansfield and other founders of the European American Investment Council began years before TanTec located in Vicksburg, he said, when he worked with some founding members to lure other projects. Some attempts were not successful, but the close working relationship and trust built through those conversations resulted in other foreign investments in Mississippi, he said.
"They gained confidence in what I can do or how I can deliver for a project," Mansfield said. "These guys deliver time and time again, and I've been on the receiving end of their delivery, or my community has, so I put a lot of confidence into what they can achieve."
Florian Stamm, a founding member of the European American Investment Council and longtime Mansfield colleague, said it was clear to him that Longview's workforce can handle a multitude of manufacturing opportunities. What impressed him also was the reception he and other council members received in Longview and local leaders' desire to know of and immerse in the cultures and business models in European communities, he said.
"If you receive them well and you show them that you will up and solve their problems — most of them are coming to a new country — their decision becomes much easier," Stamm said. He suggested exchange programs such as becoming a sister city with places in Germany or elsewhere in Europe.
Those factors are specifically why the city and LEDCO has invested in research, Longview Mayor Andy Mack said.
"It's two-way research," he said. "Those that come here, we're investing in the same research on who's looking to come here, because if people don't think that we take time to look at what they're doing and what they want, then we haven't done our job. That's all part of it."
White Oak Mayor Kyle Kutch, who along with Mack attended a welcome reception this past Sunday for Stamm and others, also sees opportunity from the visit.
"I think this is great because it will help Gregg County," Kutch said. "We're all in Gregg County, so if we can do something like that and get any company to come here wherever here, as long as it's in Gregg County, it's going to help everybody."
'I'm in the door'
For Mansfield, the work is just beginning in attracting European investment.
Advisory council members are meeting European companies armed with face-to-face information about Longview, its capabilities and its ability to welcome employers. That includes when European American Investment Council membership meet with companies from the BeNeLux countries — Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg — for face time with "relevant decision makers," according to eaic-fdi.com.
European American Investment Council CEO Matthias Beier "is making direct contact with those companies, and the advisory council."
"They can go back to those companies with Matthias and Stefan Aegenheyster and say, 'Here is Longview's skill set. Here is their property. Here is their training. Here is what they can provide. Here are the list of incentives, whether they are local or state,' " Mansfield said.
"And then Stefan or Matthias, they're meeting directly with that CEO to say, 'Hey. If you're looking to expand, here are potential locations especially in Texas,' and then call us up — 'Hey, Wayne, we need to talk,' " Mansfield explained.
"I'm in the door with the CEO. I don't need a middle man, I know the company, I'm meeting the CEO and I am conveying the Longview message to them directly, and that's — I can't overstate the importance of having those relationships, especially with European nations, because building that level of trust with them is really huge."