But in his position as vice president of economic development for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, he often has to keep things to himself in order to build trust with companies interested in locating in the area.
And breaking that trust could easily be the deal breaker that could cost hundreds of jobs or millions of dollars pumping into the local economy.
“I think people do not understand sometimes economic development is very competitive,” Berry said. “We are often not the only community competing for a business. There are more than 5,000 economic development agencies in America and we are in daily competition with them all.”
He recalled competing against 70 other communities at the same time for the same project.
Berry acknowledges there is often a frustration on Main Street when it comes to not knowing what is happening regarding the potential of new businesses entering the local market. But he adds that secrecy is not necessarily what he wants. It is often a requirement of those companies scouting the area.
“There are limitations on how much I can discuss publicly while I am in the middle of discussions or negotiations on projects,” Berry said.
“It’s extremely frustrating for me, because I see a lot of misinformation get out on the street as a result of the fact I can’t clarify because of confidentiality agreements and nondisclosure agreements.”
Berry said he understands his is a very public role and he thinks it is in the best interest of the community for there to be ongoing discussion about what his office is doing and his responsibility as a representative of the community.
“It’s not a right to represent this community, it’s a privilege,” he said. “This organization has a very long and rich history of partnering productively by pulling private sector resources into the economic development programming to offset direct expense by local governments.”
He said it also creates a “unified front” of a business community and government entities that work to improve the economic opportunities for area residents.
“People hopefully understand we get up as economic developers every day and look in the mirror and realize we’re in a privileged position. Our primary responsibility is to help the average citizen have an opportunity to advance his or herself economically,” Berry said.
He said one challenge is the fact needs for skills are “changing rapidly.”
“A lot of jobs that are here today will be technologically obsolete five years down the road,” Berry said. “All of us are going to have to be open to additional learning and understanding our positions [which] are going to be ever-changing because the world economy is ever-changing.”
He said the total obligation he feels is to the citizens of the community, which makes it hard to have to maintain silence when new potential businesses are at hand.
“The secrecy we maintain around projects while we’re negotiating is for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One is because corporate America is a competitive environment. Business is competitive and companies that are looking to develop new facilities or expand an existing facility have to have comfort that their business reasons for maintaining confidentiality are respected and maintained.”
He said business also needs to control how the information flows.
“It could be because of competition, the laws that govern publicly held corporations or decisions that might have effects on stock market values,” Berry said. “You have to be extremely sensitive to all of that.”
He returns to the 5,000 economic agencies across the country.
“I can assure you there are not 5,000 available projects per year,” Berry said. “We don’t want to disclose who we’re dealing with to other communities who could very easily compete against us for those.”