Building Foreign Direct Investment Pipelines During Crisis: 5 Steps for International Economic Development Officials

Presented by Benchmark Strategies

Patrick Bench

May 8, 2020

COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of international economic development. On the last day of Economic Development Week, today is the right time to for international economic development officials to their new Foreign Direct Investment marketing plans for the upcoming months during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Our team at Benchmark Strategies, in consulting to international economic development agencies, foreign businesses, and global trade organizations, has developed this Five-Step Action Plan for economic development professionals who specialize in attracting and assisting foreign direct investment to their locality.

While working with over sixty international businesses based in the United States and planning over a hundred global trade mission visits, the closest parallel I can suggest to our current economic climate is the great recession of 2008-2009. Although we were not facing a global pandemic, the recession of 2008-2009 provides several similarities, such as a short-term spending freeze, limited ability to plan international travel, and global economic uncertainty. Our focus in this guide is to build budget neutral steps that can build FDI pipeline and referral networks, while also best positioning your locality to attract first phase economic development deals.

Digital Content and Promotion

With the absence of global trade conferences this spring and through the remaining year, international economic development professionals must refocus their budget resources towards low spend, sustainable returns. Review your CRM to understand the top five industry/country pipelines of consistent foreign direct investment between 2017-2019. For example, if a consistent driver has been medical device/Ireland, review the opportunities for SEO optimization aligned with the media, Silicon Republic. This targeted messaging and spending will provide sustainable leads during and more importantly, after COVID-19.


Partner with Mission-Aligned International Organizations

In over a thousand cities across the globe, there are economic attachés and international business associations whose mission is to assist businesses from their country open in new markets. The economic attachés business associations have a responsibility to understand the regions that they cover in foreign countries. This responsibility of the economic attachés provides an incredible opportunity for international economic development professionals to educate these offices and build direct relationships between them and the ecosystem of a region.


Focus on Expanding First Phase Investments

Global companies often enter markets and building teams with little fanfare or need for attention. The mission for these new market entrants is to build a sales channel and understand if their new sales offices or initial R&D labs will be the most sensible location for future expansion. During this time of COVID-19, it is an important client management opportunity to offer technical assistance, loan programs (if available), and most importantly, COVID-19 information for businesses.


Virtual Trade Missions

In the second half of 2020, trade missions of international businesses arriving in your city for three days of meetings will be rare, if not non-existent. While these executive leaders are not boarding airplanes, they are still planning their market entries around the globe. Building introductory programs over a day that take place on teleconference provides an opportunity for international economic development officials to advocate for their region and provide technical assistance to inbound companies seeking to open locations. Economic ministers on six continents are interested in building new business partnerships for their companies during COVID-19 and beyond. Connect with us to discuss how a digital trade mission could operate and build an FDI pipeline for your region.


Celebrate Success

Every job created is a life transformed. During these uncertain times, international economic development officials should look to highlight all growth regardless of job count and investment. Whether the celebration is a video conversation between a government leader and CEO or a coordinated media announcement, this positive attention builds the mutual respect and appreciation that will lead to future large-scale expansions as well as both event and HQ relocations in the years ahead.

The proactive steps taken by international economic development officials during COVID-19 will be vital to job creation and foreign direct investment in the years to come. Every organization understands their strengths and limitations, but we hope these steps will assist professionals in the future.


Patrick Bench is the Former Director of Foreign Investment Development in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In his role as President of Benchmark Strategies, Patrick advises international development organizations and global companies on economic development strategy.

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