Business survey centerpiece for 2-28-15 news

The Columbus Economic Development Board is about to begin conducting its third annual Existing Business Survey to learn more about the plans and needs of local companies. The results help paint a picture of the local business climate.

CyberMetrix, which helps engineers and scientists simulate, model, design and test engines and power systems, said the survey played a crucial role in an $11 million expansion project and its ability to remain based in Columbus.

“The Economic Development Board survey was an opportunity to talk about our business, our needs and our desires. I appreciated all the help and guidance to get through all the paperwork and forms and to get it right,” CyberMetrix President Pete Palladino said.

CyberMetrix took the survey in 2013, and from it the Economic Development Board learned of the company’s desire to expand and create two test cells that can simulate extremely cold and hot temperatures. That led to the Economic Development Board helping CyberMetrix apply for and secure from the city a 10-year tax abatement on property improvements and equipment purchases. The board’s help also allowed the company to secure state tax credits, worth a maximum of $250,000 for the 10-year grant, Palladino said.

The tax breaks came at a pivotal time for the company, founded in 1992 by CEO Christine Mullholand, a former Cummins employee. A partner in North Carolina had wanted CyberMetrix to move there, Palladino said.

Local and state assistance helped keep the company in Columbus, and the Cybermetrix Climate Center was completed in May 2014.

Inside the test cells, temperatures can be adjusted from as low as 35 below zero to as high as 150 degrees. Cummins is the primary client for the test cells, Palladino said.

CyberMetrix has created more than 20 full-time jobs since the expansion, Mullholand said. The company has hired about 10 this year, bringing total employment to about 55, Palladino said.

The company expects hiring to continue because requests for CyberMetrix services are increasing. For example, the company has received interest from China in creating a test facility there, Palladino said.

The Existing Business Survey — which commences in March — is important not only because it allows companies to communicate with the Economic Development Board, but also because the board is able to share the findings with city leaders. For example, CyberMetrix noted in its survey the difficulty its new hires were having finding housing in the community.

“It’s important for the community to understand what services it needs to accommodate our growth,” Palladino said.

This upcoming round of surveys is the last in a three-year process. The plan is to begin another cycle next year, said Zac Nelson, Old National Bank market president and chairman of the Economic Development Board’s Business Retention and Expansion Committee.

The Economic Development Board in 2013 created a list of 150 companies of varying sizes and business segments, and has targeted 50 for surveys each year, Nelson said. During the first two years, 63 companies representing 43 percent of all local employment were surveyed.

Companies are given a 10-page confidential survey that includes wide range of questions — from satisfaction with utility services to supplier issues to expansion plans. A one-hour interview is scheduled between company executives and two members of the committee, Nelson said.

“Our existing primary employers serve as the bedrock of our economy, and it is very important that we understand their needs and do what we can to support their continued success,” said Jason Hester, Columbus Economic Development Board executive vice president.

Completing the survey process takes about two months, said Beth Bailey, who helps schedule interviews as the Economic Development Board’s executive assistant and office manager.

Local survey results are compared against national data to see how well Columbus is faring, Nelson said.

During the first year of the surveys, in 2013, Nelson said he expected companies to talk a lot about the new health care law, commonly referred to as Obamacare. That wasn’t the case.

“It was all about the workforce,” Nelson said.

Companies explained that they were having trouble finding enough skilled workers to fill jobs.

Needs that are identified in the surveys are shared with the appropriate community partners, such as City Hall or utility companies, in an effort to make the local business climate better, Nelson said.

“We want to be diligent and see if there is anything we can change,” Nelson said.

About the survey

WHAT: Columbus Economic Development Board’s Existing Business Survey.

WHO: Given to Columbus businesses of varying sizes (a few dozen employees to hundreds or more) and industry segments (manufacturing, engineering, logistics, finance, education and service, for example).

HOW: 10-page confidential survey and one-hour interview with two members of the EDB’s Business Retention and Expansion Committee. Synchronist, a data-gathering and analytical tool, is used for the surveys. This is the third year of a three-year survey cycle. About 50 companies are targeted for surveys each year.

WHY: Help the Columbus Economic Development Board identify specific needs of individual companies, and trends that can help inform policy makers and community leaders.

Previous survey highlights

Highlights of the Existing Business Survey conducted previously by the Columbus Economic Development Board:

  • Local executives view Columbus as a good place to live, work and play.
  • Columbus and Bartholomew County companies are experiencing better sales growth and are investing more in research and development, and new product development than North American companies, on average.
  • A majority of companies were planning investment and job creation over the next three years.
  • Local attitudes about the community and overall business prospects were positive.
  • Top concern was workforce skills and availability.
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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.