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Retooled Websites - Help Ease the Location Search

Communities are reacting to site selectors' needs by posting solid data on their websites as well as incorporating GIS and other interactive capabilities.

Jun/Jul 07
Maybe you're planning to track down a great location for your new facility by surfing the Internet. And maybe you're dreading what lies ahead. If so, you're not alone. Everyone knows the traditional pitfalls of the Web in this area: economic and labor data posted in confusing form - when it's available at all - or presented with more regard for marketing than for vintage or pedigree.

Well, here's some good news. You may be in for a pleasant surprise. Many economic development organizations have retooled their websites over the past year to increase the efficiency of the site location process.

"I think there's been significant improvement in many community web sites," enthuses Dr. C.R. "Buzz" Canup, president of Canup & Associates, Austin, Texas. "We have been talking for several years about what kind of information should be posted and in what format. As a result, there has been a lot of work accomplished in the content area."

Three Trends
So how does this benefit you and your firm, specifically? You can expect to see improvements in these three areas:

• Regional thinking: More websites have expanded their vision beyond insular communities to embrace more holistic views of regional conditions.

• Interactive communication: New software technologies allow communities to respond efficiently to requests for customized information by site selection teams.

• Graphical packaging: There is continuing growth in the use of geographic information system (GIS) technology to present data in a graphical format that deepens the understanding of a region's benefits and drawbacks.

Consultants expect these trends to become more prominent in the year ahead. That's all to the good as the Web becomes more critical to site selection success.

"The Internet is the way the world works now," says Don C. Schjeldahl, vice president and director for the Facilities Location Group of The Austin Company, Cleveland. "We start every search by going to websites and getting basic information to help in the screening process."

Think Regional
No community is an island; every facility location is affected by forces that transcend political boundaries. Search teams, cognizant of how a location misstep can shave profits in a world of razor-thin margins, are charged with the mission of identifying and quantifying those very forces.

"In the past, we might qualify a community by the labor force and the unemployment rate in a defined political unit, such as five adjacent counties," notes Schjeldahl. "Today we often need to identify and qualify functional labor market areas that are usually irregularly shaped."

Schjeldahl gives an example: A client wanting to place a manufacturing plant needs 200 workers, half of whom will be machinists. One site under consideration is located near a highway interchange. The presence of a good road network suggests that the labor shed for the machinists will likely extend beyond the traditional political reporting area. In recognition of this reality, Schjeldahl will undertake a drive-time analysis: How many machinists live within a 60-minute commuting drive from the site? The answer will affect the client's profit picture because of the resulting salary impact: A wage of $15 an hour will draw machinists from one functional area; a $20 wage will draw from a larger one. Thus, communities hopeful of landing new business must present themselves in a way that facilitates this kind of regional analysis.

"Economic development organizations are seeking to differentiate their communities from others," notes Mark J. James, president of Powell, Ohio-based ED Solutions, a firm specializing in the application of technology in the economic development profession. "One of the ways you do that on the Web is through the provision of greater amounts of, and more specific data about, a location." From the standpoint of the site selector, of course, regional efforts reduce the tedious search through an array of isolated, self-interested sites that too often present incompatible and stale data.

More sites are getting the regional message. Schjeldahl points to the example of the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority (VEDA) in southern California ( Here, five communities that once might have promoted themselves independently have joined forces for the greater good. "You have to hand it to these guys," Schjeldahl says. "They took the plunge and are working together."

Launched in late 2005, the VEDA site shows how regional cooperation can help when an area faces the challenge of rebounding from a crisis. "The main economic driver for our site was the closing of an Air Force base in the early 1990s," says Collette Hanna, VEDA's business development manager. "Some 7,500 jobs were lost and there was a huge impact to the entire area. VEDA was formed to revitalize the region and bring back an economic engine. We saw the need to market ourselves as a a logistics hub."

Another regional effort is Team New England, which consolidates the economic development efforts of six states at And cities such as Kansas City (, Oklahoma City (, and Louisville ( are presenting their profiles in the context of larger regions that extend beyond political boundaries.

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