So, when’s the last time the world stopped?
Having never experienced anything quite like the current health concerns, it is certainly worth taking a deep breath and thinking through what the impact might be on corporations and their advisors as location positioning is examined.
At the highest level of perspective, in most cases, business was extremely robust, and corporations were enjoying a time period that saw strong consumer confidence, low economic volatility, and little hesitation making long-term business commitments. This now has changed in the strongest manner possible. While we all know there are exceptions to anything, the pandemic will certainly bring about major change. Three factors come to mind: Specifically, which projects will go forward? How will overall location strategies be modified? And, how will the way the location process is conducted be altered?
Capital projects are now on hold (with only a few exceptions). Uncertainty in buyer demand, government regulations, and financial performance have caused a major “time-out” in both the public and private sectors. Most location-focused projects have been suspended — if not outright cancelled. At this juncture, it is anyone’s guess when things might get back on track. Perhaps it might wait until a preventative or outright cure for the virus is put in place. In short, corporations will not be comfortable making long-term decisions, and monies associated with location analysis are better spent elsewhere.
Modifying Location Strategies
Among the factors analyzed in making the location decision have always been natural disasters and weather patterns. These considerations include past evidence at a specific location, as well as hypothetical questions such as how big is too big? The current pandemic work stoppage and geographical “hot spot” findings will factor into broad strategic planning. Similar to what we all experienced after the September 11 attacks, prudent organizations developed business continuity plans that factored in high-level “what-ifs,” and avoided putting too many eggs into one basket. Perhaps future location decisions will include additional scrutiny aimed at this additional risk.
Alternative methods may be explored to allow additional information to be gathered without the need for mass travel.
The Location Selection Process
More than likely, we will experience significant delays in corporate projects — but, once restarted, the way activities are conducted will see changes. Learning from our experiences over time, we have already witnessed modifications in how corporate users and location advisors go about the process. One example is the advent of reliable Internet systems and credible economic development website information. Gone are the days of very extended “fieldwork” activities when specialists needed to visit each candidate community to collect needed data. Today, as well all know, both consultants and corporations rely on that online data way before actual visits take place.
As an extension of this ability to work remotely, alternative methods may be explored to allow additional information to be gathered without the need for mass travel. This approach may see more existing employer interviews being conducted through telephonic and video conferencing — just as an example. On lesson learned, again from September 11, is that there was a shift in client acceptance that in-person meetings were not essential for every meeting. This realization cut consultants’ travel by as much as 50 percent. So, it is only logical to believe that additional methods will be found to lower travel risks in the future.
Obviously, there are many aspects involving the pandemic’s impact on corporate locations. But it is too early to really understand the full impacts. Is there a stronger or weaker argument for globalization? Is there really any way to position an organization for something like we have just witnessed? Will the greater corporate priority within the next few years be so focused on financial survival that location strategy becomes a thought for a later date? These, and many other questions, will eventually be answered — but change will certainly happen.