Area Development
Certified used cars, certified organic products, certified wild caught seafood: More than ever before, consumers are obsessed with the idea of purchasing certified goods — goods that we are led to believe are of a higher quality than their non-certified competitors and, therefore, justify a higher price. In the site selection world, the illusion is the same.

In corporate site selection, almost every state in the union has some form of “site certification program,” vehemently pushing their site or “certified product” to you, the corporate location team. As a result, an unwitting selector can easily be led to believe that the “certified site” is of superior quality to an uncertified site. But is this truly the case? Unfortunately, it depends on whom you ask and who is certifying the site.

Since no national standard exists for the certification of a site, certifying agencies — typically state and/or regional EDOs — are left to their own devices to develop their site certification standards. Herein lies the problem.

{{RELATEDLINKS}} State, regional and local economic development agencies come in all shapes and sizes and lots of them tend to focus their resources on marketing, branding, and incentives rather than a technical staff to run a certified sites program. This leads to a wide variety of site certification programs that tout “shovel-ready” or “development-ready” sites across the country. Unfortunately, EDOs more focused on marketing and branding may have a site certification program with very little due diligence and/or technical requirements to achieve the certification status. In this case, the certified site may initially resonate with the corporate buyer but will quickly drop out of any serious bid to land a project.

On the other hand, EDOs that have invested the time and effort to develop stringent certification criteria specific to their local geographic, regulatory, and entitlement conditions will typically have readily available all the due diligence and technical data required for the corporate buyer to make a well-informed, timely location decision.

What constitutes a quality “certified site”?
Truly understanding if a site is high quality, or meets your needs, requires several things. First, lots of data. If the EDO can readily produce a site package with recent studies and site due diligence reports addressing topics such as environmental, geotechnical, wetlands, traffic impacts, local land entitlement process, cultural resources, title abstracts, utility service capacities, and infrastructure upgrades, then you know the EDO is prepared and the site certification means something. These technical studies and engineering reports are not cheap and typically require lots of field investigations. Even if you as the corporate buyer could care less about reading or understanding these reports, seeing this level of due diligence should give you comfort in the value of the certification.

What should you look for?
Even though no national standard exists for certification of a site, technically sound certification programs will share some basic key criteria: Don’t buy on label alone; read the ingredients.
A quick search of most any economic development agency’s website will enable you to find tons of sites with fancy “certified site” labels purporting to be the gold standard for a quality site. Don’t be fooled by the label. Take the time to read the details and ask the EDO questions about the site. With a little effort, you will figure out if you have a quality site or just a site full of fatal flaws with a shiny “certification” seal on it.

As a corporate buyer, you rarely have the time, energy, or breadth of expertise to identify every fatal flaw the potential site may have. Employ an in-house expert with a sufficient technical background in real estate or engineering to head up your site selection team or utilize an outside site selection consultant. Either way will provide you a level of assurance so that you can understand what constitutes the “certified site” label.

As you embark on the search for your next corporate facility, you will find no shortage of “certified sites” for sale across the country. So, remember, don’t buy based just on the label alone. Take the time to truly understand what is in the site package.