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International Trade

Winning a $200 million, 100-job biotech facility came down to being a matter of persistence and timing that demonstrated the Greater Omaha area can compete internationally in business recruiting.

Economic development officials had been courting Novozymes, trying to get the Danish company to locate a plant on the Cargill Inc. biorefinery campus at Blair, Neb., but were told they were out of the running. The competition for the facility was worldwide with China being one of the places under consideration.

Paula Hazlewood, executive director of Gateway Development Corp. in Blair, went back to work and convinced Nebraska economic development officials and city leaders to sweeten the incentives package.

That was the persistence part: forging ahead after being told it was no use. Then came the timing part. Hazlewood credits part of the reason for Novozymes’s change of mind to timing. “We sent the package to them at a good time, just when they were making a decision,“ she said.

The enhanced incentives tipped the balance because Novozymes was already comfortable with the idea of putting the plant in Blair, said Hazlewood.

So comfortable, it turned out, that between the June 2008 announcement that Novozymes had chosen Blair and the March 2009 groundbreaking, the size of the plant grew from an $80 million to $100 million investment by Novozymes to $200 million. The plant produces enzymes, including those used in producing ethanol; the Cargill biorefinery campus has an ethanol plant among its production facilities.

Marisa Ring, the Greater Omaha Chamber’s manager of international business development, credits Hazlewood with winning the plant for Blair. “She really turned it around,“ said Ring. “We were competing globally.“

That Greater Omaha can compete internationally for businesses was pointed out again in March when a Chinese company, Easyway International Freight of Shaanxi, announced it would set up a freight-forwarding operation in La Vista, an Omaha suburb. Four Chinese executives will move to Omaha and the business will start with 15 employees.

China was one of the stops, and a primary one, that Ring made on a 2009 recruiting trip in Asia. One of her selling points in trying to attract Chinese and other international companies to Omaha is the city’s central U.S. location. Using Omaha puts international shippers’ goods within two days’ trucking time of most of the country. Rail shipping times are similar.

Adding to the pluses of an Omaha location is Foreign Trade Zone No. 19, a 17-acre site with 250,000 square feet of warehouse space and facilities for assembling, repackaging, cleaning and otherwise handling imported goods awaiting shipment to customers. The zone is within a few minutes of Eppley Airfield, the Omaha area’s major airport.

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Town Square Publications