Christopher Steele, Global COO and North American President, Investment Consulting Associates (ICA) (Dec/Jan 10)
The changing economy continues to change the way corporations plan and operate. The 2008 Corporate Survey indicated that companies had begun to defer location decisions or had chosen to move ahead with plans in cases where consolidation or staff reductions were the major goals. This trend has continued in 2009. The same percentage of respondents indicated that facility plans had been put on hold (about 24 percent), but new plans to reduce employment increased from 18 percent in 2008 to 35 percent in 2009.
Interestingly, the 2009 data still shows that while activity for new domestic facilities is down, the mix of uses remains roughly the same between 2008 and 2009: Manufacturing and warehouse/distribution projects still lead, making up roughly 70 percent of all new facility projects in 2009.
The responses also show that activity is significantly up in the Mid-Atlantic region (15 percent of all projects in 2009 as compared with 7 percent in 2008) and down in the Plains (10 percent in 2008, 4 percent in 2009). Movement to domestic offshore locations is also up (4 percent of all projects in 2009 as compared with 2 percent a year ago).
While difficult to say from the data, the increase in activity for the Mid-Atlantic region could reflect a response to 2008's fuel costs and the desire to locate production closer to areas of higher population density. This argument is bolstered by the international data, which shows that the single region showing the largest gain in new facilities projects is Western Europe! This region went from 9 percent of new projects planned in 2008 to 14 percent in 2009. (Asia remained constant, with the largest overall percentage of projects, 39 percent.) This activity could be indicative of a move toward some form of "new normal." A move toward population centers hedges against fluctuations in fuel prices due to long-distance logistics, in addition to supporting general growth plans.
We still do not know how long this economic downturn will last, or if, in fact, this is a more permanent state of affairs. If so, next year's survey results could show an uptick in activity for new reasons. Indeed, deal flow may increase solely due to decisions that can be deferred no longer, higher fuel costs, and a general desire to gain any level of competitive advantage in the new economic reality.