Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Trade delegation preparing for trip to France
Thursday November 29, 2007

Daily Mail Business Editor

Picture: Andrew Dunlap, Charleston Area Alliance Economic Development Project Manager

A delegation of economic development professionals from Advantage Valley -- the region that includes Kanawha, Putnam and Cabell counties -- departs Saturday for a weeklong trade mission to France.

"We have had more than 20 companies express an interest in meeting with us," said Mike Herron, president of Advantage Valley. "We're dividing into two teams so we can cover more ground, visit more people."

Scheduled to make the trip, in addition to Herron, are Andrew Dunlap, economic development project manager at the Charleston Area Alliance; Gary Walton, executive director of the Putnam County Development Authority; Gerald McDonald, president of the Huntington Area Development Council; and Angela Mascia, the West Virginia Development Office's Europe project manager.

Sven Gerzer, director of the state's Europe Office, will join them in France with a French assistant and an interpreter.

"Advantage Valley has always been interested in the international market," Herron said. "We had a British firm on retainer and they had sent some prospects from the United Kingdom and we got a couple of one- or two-person operations. We thought it might be more cost effective for us to go over and meet with people face to face.

"The is the first time the West Virginia Development Office has helped put together a trade mission for a specific region of the state," Herron said. "Before, they put missions together and said, 'Anybody want to go?' We said to the development office, 'We want to go over to represent the Advantage Valley West Virginia section -- Boone, Lincoln, Clay, Mason, Wayne, Kanawha, Putnam and Cabell counties.

"We told them we want to stick with what we consider our core industries: chemical, biometrics, biomedicine, metal fabrication, manufacturing, automobile manufacturing and automobile parts manufacturing," he said.

Herron said the development office pointed out that businesses in France had not been targeted recently and France seemed like a potentially fertile market.

With help from the state office, Advantage Valley sent letters to French companies, asking if they were interested in meeting with the delegation. "The response from French businesses was favorable," he said.

Steve Spence, the development office's executive director, said, "The development office is pleased to partner with Advantage Valley on this important marketing initiative. France is one of the top sources of international investment in the United States, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

"From the response to the mailing and the itinerary of sales calls, it is apparent that the market offers great potential for West Virginia," Spence said. "Although we had identified France as a future country to target, this cooperative effort with Advantage Valley and the participating development authorities is enabling us to enter the market much sooner than originally planned."

Herron said, "We'll be in face-to-face meetings with French businesses that have expressed interest in opening an office, developing a partnership. These will be initial meetings. All of the companies have requested that we be confidential. They don't want their competitors in the U.S. and France to know they may be looking to expand to North America. So I've been instructed not to give specific names of companies we'll be meeting with."

The delegation will arrive in Paris on Sunday morning. They will meet with Gerzer to review their plans and will then divide into two teams.

Team No. 1 will include Herron, McDonald, Gerzer and a French assistant. On Monday they'll meet with a manufacturing company in Nanterre. Tuesday they will meet with companies in Valdivienne and Saumur before returning to Paris. On Wednesday they will meet with prospects in Paris in the morning and later with companies in Rueil Malmaison, Chatou and Coueron. They will then return to Paris or go to Nantes. They have Thursday and Friday meetings in Montpellier, Toulouse and Pau.

Team No. 2 will include Mascia, Walton and Dunlap and perhaps an interpreter. "Sven has told us that all of the companies this team is visiting has English-speaking partners but they may still hire an interpreter, just to make sure everything is understood," Herron said.

Team 2 will visit companies in Nice, Exincourt, Sarreguemines, Haguenau, Evreux Nonancourt, and Saint Quentin. Afterwards, Dunlap will return to Charleston. Mascia and Walton will join with McDonald and visit other parts of Europe.

Each agency and the state are paying for their own travel, hotel accommodations and meals. Advantage Valley paid for the mailings to French companies, hired a French assistant for Gerzer, and will hire an interpreter for Team 2 if needed, Herron said.

Advantage Valley's Board of Directors has budgeted $25,000 for the mission, although Herron hopes the total cost will be $15,000 to $18,000.

"This is what my economic development experts told me: 'We want to work,'" Herron said. "This is not receptions, parties, social events. These are face-to-face meetings. We'll hit as many and spend as much time as we can.

"This is my first trip and it is all kind of new to me," Herron said. "These will be first meetings -- get-acquainted meetings. We'll do the courtship, find out about each other. I'm sure they will have a lot of questions. The next step, logically, will be to get them to come take a look. Sometimes this process takes years, not weeks or days. But you've got to knock on the door, get in, establish rapport."

Advantage Valley was formed 11 years ago to promote cooperation among businesses and governments along the Charleston-Huntington corridor.

"Everyone has worked together on this project," Herron said. "There are more than half a million people in this region. I think this makes us more of a player on the international scene than if we were over there just representing Charleston or Putnam County or Huntington. When you put all of our assets together, it's a pretty nice region to sell.

"There are a couple of things working in our favor," he said. "French investment in North America is up. The Euro is very strong. And France has a new president who is much more pro-American."

Contact writer George Hohmann at or 348-4836.


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