One of the biggest challenges facing occupiers and economic development organizations now is how to accelerate economic recovery. There is an urgency to create as many new job opportunities as possible, and economic development organizations will play a critical role in that effort. For example, there is a premium on skills, education, and training, and states that have prioritized customized workforce solutions will have an advantage going forward. According to Area Development’s 35th annual Corporate Survey, 42 percent of respondents consider workforce training incentives to be among the most important when making a location decision.
In the midst of these challenges, there are also opportunities. As demonstrated in this survey, trends that were already under way before the pandemic — like digitization and automation—are accelerating, with nearly 50 percent of the respondents having instituted more automated processes in response to COVID-19. Cloud computing, data centers, and cybersecurity are also seeing rapid growth as they continue to facilitate remote working. Similarly, e-commerce projects are continuing to flourish, with distribution and fulfillment facilities moving closer to population centers.
The pandemic has also amplified the need for companies to evaluate existing and new markets from fresh perspectives. Nearly 25 percent of all survey respondents claim that their real estate strategy has changed as a result of COVID-19. In the years ahead, we believe many business leaders will continue to have fluid discussions about their footprints and start to consider new factors as they make location decisions, specifically as it relates to population size and density, population growth and momentum, public transit dependence, housing costs and foreclosure risks, fiscal impacts, university pipeline, major airport access, and climate.