A dynamic, strategic and innovative economic development leader, Stéphane Frijia joined NEI to serve as President and CEO in October 2021. He is responsible for leading the economic development strategy for the 11-county region represented by NEI, including the task of increasing business investment and regional prosperity through ongoing collaboration with local, regional, private, and public partners and organizations.
For over 10 years, He honed his craft in the fast-paced, competitive and politically complex environment at one of the top economic development organizations in the country. In his previous role as the senior vice president of strategy for the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, he attracted billions in new investment and thousands of new jobs to the region.
He has served as an advisor to c-suite and policymakers regarding market intelligence, public relations, international relations, policy and foreign direct investments.
He was responsible for continually improving internal processes to gain actionable market and industry intelligence, to drive traditional deal-flow and economic diversification. He has a proven track record for developing and managing regional cluster-based industrial attraction strategies to catalyze investment into new industrial parks across the region.
Additionally, he led the creation of new consortia of public, private, university and community partners to create a new smart region framework to develop and help scale solutions rooted in connectivity, mobility, equity and sustainability.
Stéphane earned a Master’s degree in Urban and Environmental Planning and a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Management Technology from Arizona State University.
He was recognized in 2019 as top 40 under 40 in the economic development industry by Development Counsellors International (DCI), a national leader in marketing places.
Connect with Stéphane on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- The Northeast Indiana Strategic Development Commission’s strategic plan, trends, challenges, and opportunities
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix.
Intro: We’re broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Association Leadership Radio. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: Lee Kantor here, another episode of Association Leadership Radio. And this is going to be a good one. Today on the show, we have Stephane Frijia with the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. Welcome.
Stephane Frijia: Thank you. Happy to be on the show.
Lee Kantor: Well, I’m so excited to learn about is it NEA? Is that what you call it NEI. So tell us about the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. How are you serving folks?
Stephane Frijia: Yeah. And the partnership in the eye now. We’ve been running now for over 16 years. I think like many other organizations in our space, we’re created to help bring communities together. We cover territory about 11 counties. And sometimes it’s you know, it’s hard to to collaborate. And I think this was the truth in the early 2000. So an effort was initiated to kind of bring all the parties together to start working together on a on a joint strategy and joint objectives. And that was a very noble and needed effort that ultimately, fast forward 16, 17 years led us to a lot of great success here in northeast Indiana.
Lee Kantor: And then so when you talk about a partnership, it’s a partnership between public private universities. It’s the whole kind of it’s the whole team. Right? All the constituents.
Stephane Frijia: Yes. Yeah. Public, private. That’s a good way to kind of start. But the it involves more than that. We have close ties with the business community that are kind of key funders of ours. We work very closely with the various units of government, both local and state. We convene a network of university colleges across across Northeast so they can all kind of work together and, you know, knowledge about each other’s build trust and collaboration because you never know when the opportunity calls or a challenge arises. And you’ve got to be able to look at your fellow partner across the table and say, you know, what can we do together about it? And I think that was the kind of core premise that allowed the formation of the of the partnership. Now, as an organization, you know, our core mission is to attract investments into the region. That’s what the partnership was created to do in its original form. And it still is the core mission. But before you can talk to external partners and convince them that this is the right place for them to call home, that place for them to bring their business, you’ve got to really work on yourself, investing in yourself, building those networks so that you then you have something tangible to to share with others that you invite to to the party. So you’ve got to fix the house first, so to speak, before you become a host. And I think the organization and leadership across the region has spent significant time doing just that. Many people across the state look at Northeast as a as a model on how things should be done.
Stephane Frijia: A little bit of a gold standard, you know, here in the Midwest for the size of the market that we are, we’re not a huge market. And so collaboration, you know, was has been an intentional part of the DNA of the partnership of Northeast Indiana. And many are looking at us to see how is it done and how we were able to kind of bring all those very disparate interests in very different interesting times and conflicting in some occasion to to come to the same table in a professional and and really kind of trust based approach on how we move forward as a region, how we grow it, how we make it welcoming and frankly, how we’ve bucked the trend. I don’t know if the Northeast and as well as the rest of the Midwest in general for a for a long time. You know, the there were a little bit of bleeding, so to speak, you know, as people and businesses were looking for warmer weather. But if you look at what’s happening in more recently over the last five years, this is a come back. The Midwest is coming back. And Northeast definitely has been one of those regions that has turned around being one of the fastest growing region in the in the Midwest in a couple of years in a row. Now, the first number one, now number second. So I think there’s been interesting to watch this kind of turnaround and reinvestment renaissance story that we’ve been experiencing here in Northeast.
Lee Kantor: Now, how do you kind of foster that culture of collaboration rather than looking at everything as a zero sum game of me winning and you losing? I mean, you’re dealing with a variety of interests, all with their own agenda. How do you kind of bring them all to the table for this kind of collective good?
Stephane Frijia: Well, it starts with a dialog. You’re absolutely right into some regards. At the end of the day, it’s still a zero sum game and everyone understands that. But besides the the finality, whether a business goes into one town or a different city or one county or another, there is new understanding that, you know, the way things really work. It’s about labor shared, it’s about regions. It’s a much larger than a single town, and that the people have understood that a rising tide lifts all boats, you know, especially with the geography where there’s the natural movement that in our case even extends beyond our own state line. There’s natural affinity. Even West Ohio, people live in Ohio and actually commute into northeast Indiana in a four hour work opportunity and vice versa as well. So you got to start from an understanding of how things really work in the real world and then open a dialog about not what divides us, but what brings us together. So what is a shared agenda that unifies us, that allows us to become stronger together? And you developing you can focus on making those threads stronger and stronger. Recently, we, as the Partnership and I, we just released our three year plan on what we’re going to be doing specifically on behalf of the region. So giving people kind of clear sight of not just day to day, but down the line so that people can align and then bring different voices to the table to contribute to that vision.
Stephane Frijia: I was part of an effort over the last nine months that was technically funded by the state to create a five year plan for for the region and how we bring more resources, state resources to our region to put them to work and create a true ROI back to region and definitely back to the state. So those are things where again, those are problems that are not really unique to our region or to a state, but we’ve got to figure out what’s our flavor of the solution, What is the solution that fits Northeast fits Indiana fits the type of problem and the and our circumstances. And when you do that and you open those dialog, you’ll be amazed. And then you do find those common grounds. And then after that is a matter of execution, because a plan is all great until you actually get get going and doing it. And that’s where back to a point earlier where trust, you know, makes all the difference. You have a great plan and you have players that trusted each others that we’re going to support one another. That’s really when execution. Then comes reality.
Lee Kantor: So what’s your back story? Have you always been involved in this kind of economic development work?
Stephane Frijia: I’ve been doing this for more than ten years and now 12 to be exact. The and I aligned into this field by as probably many in my profession, you know, by accident. People don’t go to school to become developers, unfortunately. You know, people go for urban planning or traditional kind of focus things. And that was was my path, you know. But the once you get in into an experience of what economic development, the breadth and the depth that really makes up and you kind of get hooked. And if you’re like the deal making and and the opportunity to work on very complex challenges, that’s a very rewarding career that allows people to to have actual lifelong experiences doing this type of work. It’s a mission, It’s a passion. You need to be an individual and the truly going to believes on on the greater good that is looking for this opportunity to how we make more competitive, how we can better ourselves, how we can make it better for not just for the people that are new coming into town, but the people that already live here. It’s you’re always thinking right. You’re always trying to figure out the next new angle and the next opportunity for people to collaborate, come together again, build upon that trust and doing something new.
Lee Kantor: And the impact is real. I mean, with the right leader, you can make a tremendous difference not just in the region, but, like you said, down to the families that live there.
Stephane Frijia: You’re absolutely right. I mean, today we’re talking about real families, real jobs. When we bring in new a new company in investment that’s new payroll, that’s new taxes being generated that ultimately pays for additional services, whether it’s from police and firefighters or a community splash pad for kids, it’s interlinked. People don’t realize that all those ripples affect how far they go. At the same time, that allows us to keep our community more resilient. Businesses go in, are created, and they go under every day. It’s part of the economy. It’s part of the fabric of our society is built in. So be able to always cultivate that fertile ground so that new businesses can be created grow. It’s crucial because in the moment that we’re not moving forward, we automatically sliding back. There is no a parking gear in the in the life of a city, in the life of a region. It’s two steps either moving forward or you’re starting back. And the moment you realize this, then that becomes part of the motivator that allows you to think, okay, what can I do to move forward and how can we do? What decisions can we take today that will make it better for the people today, but also have a positive impact five, ten, 15 years from now? The it’s amazing. People don’t realize the the longevity of decision making that some elected officials at the local level deal with on a daily basis. So that collaboration, that support, that dialog is very, very important because we believe in those decisions for a very long time. And sometimes there is risks. Sometimes the decision can be unpopular because people don’t have all the details, the facts of that decision, so that how we bring together business community to support decision making or to really help us think through the pros and cons of a decision and allow then our officials to make the right call. That’s that’s the kind of development in its essence. So it’s fascinating and definitely get tell that I love what I do and I would encourage anyone that is curious to to get more involved.
Lee Kantor: Now, is there a sweet spot in terms of industry in your region? Do you kind of have a lot of a certain type of industry or you’re kind of open for business for anybody who’s looking for a good place to plant as a business?
Stephane Frijia: First of all, must know we’re a welcoming community to anyone, any type of business, and we’re never going to say not to anyone. Now, then, on the on the on the flip side, the industry works in clusters. So there are certain clusters of industry that are already here. They provide specific benefits to to other kind of affiliated companies or affiliated industries. For us, you know, we are a manufacturing hub. Indiana is a state overall. It’s as a manufacturing hub for for the country. The weather is automotive for us is a very strong medical device. Industries, orthopedics extremely strong for us, the technology associated with the vehicle overall. It’s anything about about making things. So really that speaks to the DNA of the region. But we also a farming community and that goes to the history of the Midwest. So you when you walk around and drive around, there’s a lot of technology and farming that gets deployed. There’s a lot of production as well. So those are I would say, the when it comes to like a sweet spot, you know, based on historical strengths that our region typically shines the best. But frankly, you know, any type of company would do extremely well in the Northeast, extremely well in Indiana and the Midwest. So and I think anyone that cures, you know, off to do it, just give us a call and we’ll be more than happy to address any questions they have.
Lee Kantor: Now as we approach 2023. Are there any trends you’re looking to take advantage of? Are there any opportunities that you see at the four that you’re ready to kind of pounce on?
Stephane Frijia: Most definitely. Actually, yesterday, you know, the our secretary of state, Secretary of commerce sorry, Secretary Chambers provided a keynote here in Fort Wayne about the 20 $22 Billion were invest in the state in 2022. And the ambition for the governor is to run into 2023 with 23 billion. So kind of playing out with the with the numbers. This is a reality. We’re at the cusp. You know, we’re in the middle of a trend for the US, you know, with a lot of manufacturing coming back to our to be on US soils or nearby supply chain and being restored. And we’re talking billions if not trillions of opportunities over the next five, six years. So we’re at the beginning of, say, innings of this kind of short game. You know, then we talk about five, six years is not a very long game, but that will kind of redefine the manufacturing production and the future of this country. So our hope and desire is the same as the the governor and and the administration is we want to make sure we got our fair share and and be a good partner with industry that they can take advantage of the assets that we do have available on the quality of life and the grit and work ethics of the people. Hoosiers. Right. That live here in the Northeast.
Lee Kantor: Now, any advice for other association leaders when it comes to building trust to constituents that require kind of a long term vision? Because the deals you’re you’re getting done they’re aren’t they don’t happen overnight. These are things that are planned out for months, if not years. And you’ve got to court people for a long time in order for them to kind of land on your doorstep. Can you share some of the strategies you use to build trust and patience with your constituents?
Stephane Frijia: Yes. I mean, I think it boils down to a fundamental understanding that any investor out there, either the personal level or a corporation investing in a new facility, the you always say there’s there’s never a risk free investment. Everything has risks. So as we know, record companies and other folks in around the country, the same thing. It’s about risk mitigation and as much as possible. So if a community is get to a point where we trust each other’s, we have each other’s back, we’re working through the same plan. What we’re doing is basically we’re de-risking those transactions because we say to the newcomers or new investors, look. You know, you’ve got goals to achieve. You know, you have a lot on the line. You got some real dollars. We are going to be part of the solution. We are a team that can work together across, you know, community lines, across jurisdictions, across organizations, because we do a long time and we’re going to be part of a solution that helps you de-risk your transaction. That’s the core message. So until you and I say you as the the committee, the committee doesn’t get to a point where they can firmly stand and say that we are that that that team that can the risk of transaction, then there’s work to be done because again the company investors are not looking for a to join you know leverage a team that doesn’t talk to one another. There is fights between the city and the counties or among different parties that that actually adds more risk profile and definitely doesn’t doesn’t speak well to the final score. So on that on on that potential transaction. So understanding really how as a community, what can you do to make it easier? And that’s part of the fundamental question that in in drive that in my mind should drive my colleagues and other community to think about how we do business and how we present our charters in understanding the the business needs of a company that is profiles and and how we can be good partners.
Lee Kantor: Now, if somebody wants to learn more about the opportunities to get on your calendar or learn more about the region, is there a website for any I.
Stephane Frijia: Yeah. This Indiana you know dot com and the Indiana dot com it used to find us just a simple email or a phone call and be more than happy to share what we learned over the years you know the talk about the advantages you know and and provide an honest broker to you know, to what we have to offer. And when you do it right and you do it with confidence, you’ll realize that sometimes, you know, the the community next door may be in a better because a better asset, you know, trust expense to and honesty to even the larger the larger the larger communities. The other day, you know, I will never want to see a community sorry, a company or individual pick a community under a false sense of understanding and then having to fold. That’s a that’s a double black eye. It’s a black eye for the company that made the wrong decision. It’s a black eye for the community that spend a lot of time and resources to even get to that point. So to me, it’s like, you know, you know, de-risking, being transparent, being honest and upfront with folks, that’s really ultimately the key to success.
Lee Kantor: Well, congratulations on all the success and you’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Stephane Frijia: Well, thank you. Opportunity to share what we’re doing.
Lee Kantor: All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you next time on Association Leadership Radio.