CLINTON — Erin Cole has come to Clinton from New York, where she held a role with the state of New York, managing the state international division.
Cole earlier this year was hired as the Clinton Regional Development Corporation Executive Director. She officially began her role with the CRDC on Aug. 20. Cole was the senior vice president for Global New York, helping mostly small state businesses. Cole previously resided in Lockport, New York, which she said is similar in size to Clinton.
"On the retention side it had to do with exporting in particular, you know, growing your sales, and through exporting incentives," Cole said. "Going out, meeting with companies, explaining the state's incentives, both for expansion and retention. And then the other piece I was responsible for was foreign direct investments. So attracting foreign investors into New York state whether it was a small business or a bigger, medium, it didn't matter. Attracting foreign investors into the state. That was a large piece of what I did."
Cole was in contact with Board Chairman Mike Johnson and CRDC staff to become more familiar with the CRDC. She also read quarterly reports and other reports prior to starting with the CRDC. Cole said her start date was good timing, citing the CRDC's intention to update its strategic plan.
"That's an important time for me to understand from our partners and investors what do they need from us?" Cole said. "What is our vision overall for the regional community? And then how can CRDC accomplish the things that people are interested in and what resources. That's always a key question, too. There are many things that people would like to do. The question is what's realistic given the size of the staff, the size of the organization, the size of the resources. You have to prioritize so that's a key thing is to find out what people want but then realistically come to an understanding of what's realistic given the staff, given the resources, given the priorities."
Cole said Clinton has done a good job of bringing in the larger size companies to the Clinton area. She said it is important to work on workforce attraction to have enough workers to fill the positions that are available at the companies in the Clinton area.
"Most companies say they do have open positions and it's becoming more difficult, more time to find the right people," Cole said. "So that's going to be part of what CRDC does is what we would call workforce attraction. So you can recruit from this area obviously and they have been doing that. But at some time if you're not getting enough people or the right people you need to clearly expand that out. You need to look elsewhere. There are best practices and there are good examples about other people have done that. So one of the things that CRDC will do moving forward as part of our new strategic plan is include workforce attraction."
Cole believes her experience as a small business owner will help bring more small businesses to the Clinton area. Cole, who previously started two businesses of her own, knows what resources are available to help local small business owners.
"There are obviously some here but I think we can bring in a lot more," Cole said. "The problem is a lot of people don't know how to write a business plan. You're not going to get financing from a bank typically unless you have a business plan. You know, have you taken any educational courses? Do you know how to market your business? I mean most small businesses fail within the first couple years anyway. But if they have a support system, a built-in support system, it lowers that number. So what we're missing here a little bit is that support system. But I think that's something that if collectively working together with the chamber and with other groups I think we can fill in that gap."
Cole also expressed support for the Home Base Iowa program. She believes the CRDC needs to better market the availability of the program. Clinton County for the program offers reimbursement of expenses up to $275 per visit, up to two times a year, for a qualifying veteran to interview with a Clinton County business; a one-time home purchase closing cost reimbursement of up to $1,500 for a home located in Clinton County when using a loan institution and legal counsel based in Clinton County; and a first-year waiver of the Clinton County business license fee for a veteran opening a business in an unincorporated area of Clinton county. Multiple Clinton County municipalities also offer incentives.
"That's something the CRDC will promote for the workforce development piece, or workforce attraction, trying to market that program to veterans who have the skills that we're looking for but who live elsewhere," Cole said. "I'm a veteran. I had no idea Home Base Iowa existed. So it really is about marketing that program. It's a great program but we need to let more people know about it."