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Expedited Permitting: Time is Money

The results of Area Development's 2007 Corporate Survey reflect the growing importance of fast-track permitting as speed to market becomes more and more critical to manufacturers.

Oct/Nov 08
We are all aware of the many financial incentive programs pitched by state and local economic development authorities hoping to influence location decision-making processes across all asset types. The end game, of course, is often hundreds of jobs (either created or retained), an improved standard of living for citizens, and a productive stream of tax income.

Granted, these attractive tax breaks and meaningful bottom-line oriented programs can add up to millions of dollars, potential savings that make for lively discussions in the boardroom. However, the new world order and the frantic pace of business these days enhances the concept that time is money. Thus, expedited permitting is a determinant variable in the concept of "on budget and ahead of schedule" - a measured success factor in location decision-making.

In fact, in Area Development's 2007 Corporate Survey, expedited or fast-track permitting appeared on the list of important issues for the first time, receiving a 71.5 combined "very important" or "important" rating and ranking 16th on the list of location factors. Why the sudden interest in expedited permitting?

Corporate Survey 2007
Combined Ratings* of 2007 Factors
Site Selection Factors           2006 2007
1. Highway accessibility 90.9 96.9
2. Labor costs 95.0 92.3
3. Energy availability and costs 82.4 89.0
4. Availability of skilled labor 85.1 88.7
5. Occupancy or construction costs 85.5 88.2
6. Available land 73.3 85.4
7. Corporate tax rate 90.8 83.8
8. State and local incentives 88.6 83.4
9. Environmental regulations 68.9 83.2
10. Tax Exemptions 86.7 82.8
10T. Proximity to Markets 76.9 82.8
Availability of advanced ICT services
N/A 82.2
12. Low union profile 78.4 80.6
13. Availability of buildings N/A 79.3
14. Right-to-work state 67.1 72.1
15. Proximity to suppliers 49.3 71.8
16. Expedited or "fast-track" permitting N/A 71.5
17. Availability of unskilled labor 65.3 65.2
18. Availability of long-term financing 64.1 63.0
19. Raw materials availability 64.1 62.5
20. Training programs 56.0 56.6
21. Accessibility to major airport 61.4 54.4
22. Railroad service 20.8 38.1
23. Proximity to technical university 30.0 32.7
24. Waterway or oceanport accessibility 17.0 15.2
*All figures are percentages and are the total of "very important" and "important" ratings of the Area Development Corporate Survey and are rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent.
For starters, global competitiveness and innovation has made speed-to-market critical for manufacturers of electronics and high-tech goods like cell phones and laptop computers. As a result, it is crucial to get new facilities up and running quicker than ever before. Failure to do so because of a slowed permitting process, for example, could result in losses in the millions if a hot new electronic gizmo is late to market, something that could cause the product to be ruled obsolete shortly after hitting store shelves.

The same theory holds true for producers of food items and other perishable products. For example, a manufacturer of soy sauces needed to act fast to construct a plant on the West Coast after a foreign-based firm set up shop in Oregon and changed the whole competitive delivery dynamics for the industry. The company had only one facility in the Midwest and needed to act swiftly to build a new facility to serve its West Coast clients, or risk losing part of that business and leading market share. Finding a location with expedited permitting that was aligned with its particular production process (which involved significant pretreatment of effluent) was crucial.

The same held true for Germany-based ThyssenKrupp Steel when time was a critical factor in starting construction for its first U.S. plant in Mobile, Alabama. Since the company was already producing steel slabs in Brazil that would be sent to the United States to be used at the new facility, accelerated site selection became the theme of the project. So despite the enormous infrastructure development complexities of a $4 billion capital investment that would cover seven million square feet of space and house 3,700 employees, the company concluded its primary permitting processes in less than six months, allowing construction to begin sooner than expected. More importantly, ThyssenKrupp was able to put certainty around a defined window of opportunity to produce high-quality coil steel ahead of the competition.

Quite simply, the faster a community signs off on permitting, the quicker the building can be built or retrofitted, which expedites product to be shipped or knowledge to be leveraged - ultimately leading to a quicker revenue stream or to the desired competitive market impact.

Here is a look at some key strategies to utilize in order to get through the permitting process quickly and efficiently:

Do your homework; know your local officials; promote good information flow.
Spend time and get to know the leadership at all levels of government in the area in which you hope to locate. Observe the alignment of all municipal departments, and make sure they can deliver on what they promise, with no bait-and-switch tactics. It is imperative to have the local officials demonstrate the permit process, and the commitment letter should document how long it will take to obtain the necessary permits required to get the project under way.

On the flip side, companies need to solicit municipal plan reviewer's input to their civil and architectural drawings before submitting final design plans. Timely applications and regular written correspondence are a must - you don't want to fall behind on the process because you were slow to react to the requests of city leaders.

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