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Innovative approach to economic development: Q&A with Steve Eckler

Steve Eckler

Thought leader and industry expert in economic development Steve Eckler discusses OBG’s innovative approach to economic development and his perspective on the public-private partnership approach to business attraction.

Q: How is OBG using technology to compete in the industry?

A: Technology is a physical manifestation of innovation. Our ability to provide technology-based solutions manifests from our ability to innovate—to look at things differently and bend tools to advance an improved technical resolution. Innovation is the key to technology—a mindset that is embedded into the OBG ecosystem, and what makes a difference with our clients.

For example, in the economic development ecosystem, our public and private sector clients are challenged by the adaptive reuse of existing, underutilized building assets. Repurposing or redeveloping existing tired structures competes with greenfield development. Without technology, greenfield development often wins the build-to-suit comparison with vacant buildings—potential end users struggle to vision their program or space objectives through the existing dust and rust

Three-dimensional (3D) scanning and point cloud technology allows us to model and program the existing space to suit the end user, eliminating visualization issues of the past. Innovative thinking and use of technology puts existing facility assets on par with greenfield assets, while also facilitating the ability to create virtual walkthroughs of the space. A person with a computer in Europe or Asia can do a virtual inspection of space located in the United States. This technology provides both solutions to our clients and opportunities for OBG.

Q: How are OBG’s economic development efforts making a difference?

Economic development services are not a typical staple of the consulting engineering world; it is a differentiator for OBG in that we bring more than engineering solutions to a project. 

With an economic development mindset, OBG focuses on increasing site readiness and reducing time-to-market. Our efforts have strengthened relationships with state and local economic development organizations, site selectors, regulators, funding agencies, and our private sector clients. We connect the dots between public investment and private sector growth opportunities. OBG’s economic development initiative has put us at the table during early stages of development opportunities, allowing for continued relationship building, brand development, and client support.

Q: Can you talk about some of the interesting projects you’re working on?

A: OBG is involved with both private and public sector clients to create and advance public-private economic development opportunities.

As examples, we supported the Herkimer County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) in preparing a greenfield site in Frankfort, NY for development. Our efforts increased the marketability of the site, which paid off with the recent siting of Tractor Supply’s 1-million-square-foot warehouse and distribution center (the largest Tractor Supply warehouse in the U.S.). OBG is now supporting the design and construction of the warehouse.

We supported Mohawk Valley EDGE in preparing the Marcy Nanocenter site, now the largest shovel-ready nano site in New York State. Our efforts have increased public and private investment at the site, with connectivity to other OBG-supported transformative economic development projects in the community, such as the Computer Chip Commercialization Center (Quad C), Utica’s Inner Harbor Redevelopment, and the proposed Integrated Health Campus (Utica Hospital).

We’re also supporting the Onondaga County IDA in reducing time-to-market for the White Pine Commerce Park—an over 300-acre site located in Central New York. Our efforts have increased the visibility and marketability of the site to support the next wave of advanced manufacturing business attraction successes in the region.

These efforts and more have created opportunities for investment and growth within our clients’ communities —opportunities that have resulted in job creation and improved quality of life for residents.

Q: How are you contributing to OBG’s mission as a thought leader in economic development? 

A: In support of OBG’s mission of creating a better future by making a difference each day, I’m building relationships with economic development organizations and supporting decision makers and stakeholders in creating an ecosystem that fosters growth and opportunity. OBG is an integral part of the regional and statewide economic development support group, which is necessary to proactively and successfully connect economic development assets with private sector investments.

Q: How are OBG’s integrated solutions making a difference?

A: First, our ability to connect, communicate, and coordinate among multiple disciplines increases opportunities to innovate. The axiom that “together, we are greater than the sum of our parts” is validated through our ideation process, which both relies on and promotes the benefits of integrating people with different backgrounds and experiences.

Second, by providing integrated solutions, we are broadening communications with our clients. We become more than an environmental company, more than an infrastructure company, and so on. We become the company that can provide a wide range of solutions to a wide range of needs.

About Steve Eckler: Steve Eckler, an economic development expert at OBG, has more than 28 years of professional experience in a career that has focused on business attraction; local, state, and federal right-to-build requirements; environmental regulations and permitting; site assessments; and environmental compliance issues. Steve can be contacted at Steve.Eckler@obg.com.

Recent Insights by Steve Eckler

Supporting transformative change in the Mohawk Valley region of New York State
Visioning space to support facility repurposing
Reducing time-to-market to attract advanced manufacturing

Learn more about how OBG brings the latest thinking to some of today’s most challenging areas—from advanced water treatment to sediment management and emerging contaminants; resilient energy, water, and coastal infrastructure; and smart manufacturing—in our Insights from OBG Thought Leaders video.