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Going Beyond Traditional Metrics in the Site Location Process to Find a Perfect “Fit”

A comprehensive location strategy looks beyond the financial and real estate aspects of a community and carefully identifies characteristics that are not found in data sets, culminating in a project agreement that places emphasis on “community fit” and “service after sale” in addition to incentive programming.

Q4 2014
Site location is a process that requires assessment of qualitative and quantitative information in order for a company to make calculated, low-risk growth decisions. The implementation of an effective site selection strategy can take on many forms, dictated by the level of analysis a company chooses to take. During this process, manufacturers, specifically, are justifiably fixated on areas such as workforce, real estate and utility qualification, taxes, access to market, and incentives.

The aforementioned are indispensably imperative components to making an educated, cost-effective conclusion, but a comprehensive location strategy will also carefully identify characteristics of a community that are not found in data sets. Much will be revealed when placing an emphasis on the careful evaluation of outlying qualities and characteristics of a local entity and its stakeholders. The development of a dynamic working relationship with the economic development organization managing the project or governmental entity under consideration is critical. Often marginalized and non-traditional evaluation aspects of this process could prove to be particularly damaging to a timely decision in the short term, but also into the future vitality of the operation.
Depending on when the working timetable to deliver a site location decision commences, some companies have the ability to place emphasis on incorporating “community fit” into their comprehensive analysis.
Assembling an Internal Team
Prior to the deployment of a location tactic, a company must engage in the internal formation of its project team. For those who undertake this practice internally, assembling an effective team will likely require the participation from departments such as HR, real estate, engineering/construction, economic/business development, finance, legal, and so on.

Clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and metrics is essential, because an internal site location team will bring an assortment of personalities, backgrounds, and occupational and project-related responsibilities to the table. Failing to do so can result in the failure to meet critical timelines and metrics set forth in the project process. In order to successfully manage project specifics with EDOs and local stakeholders, a company must present an organized identity, so that all involved are relaying accurate information and timelines.

Defining a “Project Champion”
Regardless of how exhaustive the site location analysis becomes, identifying someone who will advocate for the project on behalf of the company and provide a balanced assessment of local, regional, and state nuances is paramount. Procuring an institutional knowledge of items such as potential permitting obstacles or zoning restrictions and understanding the personalities of local stakeholders can be invaluable to the evaluation of a community, which is what makes defining a champion a necessary component of the process.

Whichever level of economic development association the project champion originates from, a set of intelligence that cannot be duplicated by the company exists. It’s imperative that this person can be entrusted to preserve whatever level of confidentiality a company wishes to uphold, yet receive the confidence to effectively leverage connectivity to entities and individuals that advance specific aspects of the project.
Expand  In order to successfully manage project specifics with EDOs and local stakeholders, a company must present an organized identity, so that all involved are relaying accurate information and timelines.
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In order to successfully manage project specifics with EDOs and local stakeholders, a company must present an organized identity, so that all involved are relaying accurate information and timelines.
Establishing a Community Fit
As previously cited, the project champion can serve as a conduit to understanding intricate and subjective characteristics and personalities of a community — “fit” is one of them. More often than not, an inadequate number of resources are dedicated to thoroughly understanding the everyday characteristics of a community. Depending on when the working timetable to deliver a site location decision commences, some companies have the ability to place emphasis on incorporating “community fit” into their comprehensive analysis.

Those who possess the financial, personnel, and timing wherewithal to make semi-frequent trips to an area during the site location process will cultivate a sense of the nontraditional metrics important to making a site location decision; e.g., the genuine interest in attracting your investment (service and financial aspect), sophistication level of the organization/community, and willingness to engage in meaningful conversations.

In order for a company to fully assess the fit of a community, one must first break down its own prohibitive barriers by avoiding the projection of characteristics such as a sense of superiority, entitlement, and communicative isolation. One location can make absolute sense over another from a cost analysis outlook, but defining whether or not the project is supported and desired by the entity is similarly indispensable. Is there genuine interest in the project, aside from the pursuit of an entity simply securing a “win?” Will our questions be answered promptly? How can we ensure required approval processes will be met to maintain the project timeline? Is there confidence our investment will be safe in the community over the long-term? These are only a select few of the myriad of unknowns to be queried and confirmed when gauging the fit of a community.

Manufacturers, in particular, are frequently required to engage in conversations with numerous bodies (e.g., city council, planning and zoning, water/wastewater authorities, etc.) in the pursuit of the approval and location of a project. One way to continue the valuation of the fit of a community is to engage in problem-solving practices, as opposed to an impersonal negotiation without communication. Actions speak much louder than words, and the same can be said for an entity or community that takes a proactive stance in addressing the project. Intimately involved localities bringing resources to the table enabling a company to obtain concise, comprehensive information demonstrate attentiveness to developing a fruitful partnership and addressing company needs.

Manufacturers, in particular, are frequently required to engage in conversations with numerous bodies in the pursuit of the approval and location of a project. One way to continue the valuation of the fit of a community is to engage in problem-solving practices, as opposed to an impersonal negotiation without communication. Receiving Service After Sale
It’s no mystery that the competitive landscape for attracting capital investment (financial and human) continues to become increasingly apparent throughout the United States, which is identifiable by the various economic development organizations (EDOs) and variance in available incentives programming. EDOs exist to promote their jurisdictions and attract investment (new and existing), which ultimately grows the economic base. Thus, it can be expected a company will encounter an infinite number of superlatives specific to how much of a perfect fit the community is, the ease and timeliness of approval processes, and value of incentives available.

Localities that manage to not only express the positives of the municipality, but are also open and candid about local timing expectations as well as fees/costs — and creatively discuss prospective discretionary incentive opportunities — are often successful in competing for and attracting new investment. To a company experiencing the process, avoiding surprises during and after a site location decision is extremely important, which is why the “service after sale” is indispensable.

At the culmination of a successful attraction of investment, a project agreement that outlines the scope of work and incentives that a community has agreed to undertake and offer, coupled with metrics and compliance responsibilities of a company, is executed. The practice is the confirmation of a formal public/private partnership, yet meaningless if the timing commitments and services are not fulfilled. A community that remains involved and is accessible will assist a company in the timely occupation of a facility, which, in turn, enables the company to operate and begin servicing the customer base. A company often places an equally valuable emphasis on the service after sale component of the location process, as they do on incentive programming.

In Sum
Financial vitality, combined with demographic and geographic deficiencies, is among the characteristics that will naturally produce certain limiting capabilities of a community or EDO. However, municipalities of any makeup own the ability to compensate for what they might lack in traditional metrics in the data set(s) of a site location process with immeasurable qualities that often set them apart from outside competition.

Designating time to this aspect of the site selection strategy may be uncharacteristic for some companies. Those who choose to investigate opportunities beyond the financial and real estate aspects of their evaluation could find themselves considering the inclusion of an area that might not make the most sense on paper, but possesses assets that reflect an assertiveness in meeting project specifics, maintaining communication, and affirming that a company’s short- and long-term timelines are met and its investment in the community is secure.
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