Robin Spinks, Principal, Greenfield and Mary Lilley, Principal, Greenfield (Winter 2011)
Every year when I receive my request to fill out the survey, I have a hard time with the answers. A specific company respondent can easily say which factors are most important to them. But as a site consultant, my client's ranking of site selection factors varies from project to project. It is hard for me to generalize based on the projects for which I have worked. A boat builder that requires access to water and a skilled work force has very different requirements than a distribution facility whose most important criteria are access to markets and transportation routes. So I am very happy to provide my insights to these survey results. Finally, I get to say, please look behind these numbers. The results are a reflection of who has responded to the survey. Note that the two largest specific responder categories are metal fabricators (19 percent) and distributors (11 percent).
A few interesting statistics jump out at me. First, all the search criteria are important - all but 6 of 35 site selection and quality-of-life factors were ranked by the majority (50 percent or more) of the respondents as "important" or "very important."
Second, because cost issues have climbed up the list of importance over the last few years, I optimistically derive that most communities must be doing a better job with availability of required assets so that cost now becomes more important. Pessimistically speaking, perhaps the communities without the assets are just never in the game. For example, project planners (81 percent) continue to want existing buildings. This site selection factor eliminates a lot of communities quickly.
Third, I think it interesting that 60 percent of the respondents say they consider whether other similar businesses are in the search geography. Does this mean that they do, or do not, want to be in a cluster? I have seen it both ways.
Fourth, the real insight in this survey is about plans. The survey results indicate that 25 percent of companies delayed their facility plans due to the recession. Based on my personal experience with clients I would have assumed this number to be much higher. In addition, nearly 40 percent of the companies surveyed expect to open a new facility within two years. Our anecdotal evidence is that search activity has significantly increased in the past six months, and the survey results reflect this trend.
According to stock analysts, companies have cash on hand as a result of severe cost-cutting. If so, now they have resources to better leverage the difficult debt market and make capital expenditures. I am encouraged. On the other hand, the "jobless recovery" may continue, since 49 percent of the proposed projects in the United States will create fewer than 20 new jobs. The survey results suggest higher employment levels for projects overseas.
Finally, the growth trend is in "green" initiatives and sustainability projects. According to the survey, nearly 60 percent of the respondents say they are taking re-use or recycling measures. Is it time to consider redevelopment of brownfield sites as a recycling activity? Can reuse also include creative repurposing of functionally obsolete buildings? I look forward to seeing innovative projects that turn industrial blight into vibrant employment centers again.