For years and years I have heard rumors about why IBM & Cabella’s did not come to Albert Lea. I heard “they” did not want us to grow, “they” are holding us back and it was all “their” fault. It was important to me to continue uncovering the facts. The truth is there was not a thing our leaders could have done to change either of the company’s minds. When all is said and done, most companies choose their new location based on relationships, not just location. This is why I continue to say, “build a relationship, build a business” (or community). You know the saying, “life isn’t what you know, it’s who you know”. It is true in businesses relocating or finding a home, too.
To find the real story I did not have to look long or hard. The real story is similar to many communities, Rochester realized they needed to create more opportunities for businesses to come into their community. They created an organization, bought land and put someone in charge of rolling out the red carpet to welcome in businesses. Harold Kamm was hired as the executive director, given an office and a job. Much to Harold’s surprise two businessmen walked into his office and a farm manufacturing company was going to be built in Rochester. Everyone who was involved in the project, as is normal, was sworn to secrecy. This was the beginning of Rochester growing.
Now the million dollar question is how did IBM relocate in Rochester. The answer is it started with two Air Force pilots on a secret mission to Moscow, Russia. What does Russia have to do with it? It all boils down to war buddies. I found the story in Rochester’s newspaper, The Post Bulletin. The article is written by David T. Bishop. It tells an interesting story for other communities to recognize how important our individual connections are to our communities and how they can change the course of a towns economy.
The article says,
“The story starts during World War II when Air Force Maj. Leland Fiegel, 28, of Rochester was chosen in 1942 by Gen. Omar Bradley to be the pilot on a secret mission to Moscow for discussions with Soviet authorities about war ally collaboration. On this highly sensitive mission, Fiegel’s co-pilot was Tom Watson Jr., the son of the founder of IBM. The two pilots struck up a friendship on the mission and during several weeks in Moscow. Later, Fiegel was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this important mission. On the return flight, Fiegel flew the plane, stopping in Rochester, where the Lester Fiegel family hosted the entire crew for dinner at the Kahler Hotel.”
When the war ended Watson returned to IBM and his buddy remained in the Air Force. During a flight his buddy’s engines lost power, the plane crashed. Fielgel died and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Eight years later IBM started looking for a new plant site, two choices were given as an option, Madison, WI and Rochester, MN.
“Watson asked the consultant if the two choices were relatively equal. When the answer was yes, he said, “Well then, we’ll go to Rochester, Minnesota.” He telephoned Leland Fiegel’s father, Lester J. Fiegel Sr., in Rochester to tell him the choice made in honor of his son and Watson’s close friend. This news was kept private by the Fiegels until IBM was ready to publicize it. This was done when Watson came to Rochester to make the announcement himself. He also visited the Fiegel family, including Lester J. Fiegel Jr. Watson later disclosed the Fiegel connection when he returned to Rochester to address the Mayo Medical School graduation.”
What is the moral of the story for Albert Lea? The moral is bringing in new businesses has more to do with war buddies, golfing, hunting trips and life events than it does about a random site selector coming to town to inquire about what we can bring to the table. It is about the relationships you are building. The people who are sitting around the table in your board meetings, the conferences we attend, the vacations we take and the fun we have with the world. The answer is we create our own story, we invite others into our story and it becomes a grandeur story changing the course of our town’s history and economy.
It is about creating a golf and hunting outing, drinks at the bar and kicking back to hangout. It is about inviting your community leaders to join in the conversation. Not as someone with an agenda, but as friends who enjoy the same hobbies enjoy and bring skill and laughter to whatever we are doing. They may also happen to have the ability to draw up numbers and business opportunities for these fabulous friends of yours. They know which land we could “giveaway” or trade, which lowers the price tag for a potential incoming business. They know the other leaders in town and have the ability to call them from the golf course and set up a meeting. Most deals happen through curious conversations and relationships, not random site selectors giving other towns a courtesy because they have to. The wise, healthy business owners know, if a community takes care of their people, they will take care of their company, too. They feel it on the golf course, hear it in the deer blind and sitting at the bar at the end of long conference.
Not surprising, guess what, IBM has moved yet again. The fact is businesses relocate and move all of the time. It is not uncommon for them to do it multiple times. We are not the only community working to wine and dine businesses. Now, on to Cabella’s. You may have guessed it, but their experience has a similar story. That is a story for the next post, stay tuned.