Companies continue to put pressure on the time allowed to make a location decision and get their product to market. At the same time, a pervasive problem across the country in economic development is a shortage in available quality industrial sites and buildings. The combination of these two problems have increased the importance for communities to be prepared with fully-vetted, fully-served, available industrial properties. By completing substantial amounts of due diligence and prep work ahead of time, it puts the community at a competitive advantage to meet a company’s demanding schedule and land a project.
This concept is not new. Roughly half of the states have some level of a site certification program. In addition, rail and utility providers have created programs to produce more competitive properties in their service territory. Communities and individual property owners are seeing the value in completing certification to attract prospects. However, the era of ‘build it and they will come’ is over. Ten years ago, having a certified property was an anomaly and enough to set a community apart from the competition.
Now communities everywhere are actively developing a portfolio of industrial properties. Certified sites that can be given at little-to-no costs to companies have almost become expected in the site selection process. So the question no longer is, should I prepare a certified site? The question should be, now that I have a certified site, what should I do to actively market the property? Before marketing is addressed, we will try to define a certified site.
What is a Certified Site?
There is not a standard definition of a certified site. Because there are no overarching standards, the level of preparedness of a certified property can be vastly different according to the criteria used in different programs.
McCallum Sweeney Consulting (MSC) believes three key attributes are the basis of site readiness and required by our site certification programs:
- AVAILABLE – Site really is for sale or lease, with established terms and conditions;
- SERVABLE – If all infrastructure is not already at the site, then at least detailed plans with schedules and price tags have been developed; and
- DEVELOPABLE – Environmental and other related assessments (and mitigation, if necessary) are complete.
Some certification programs are extremely rigorous and make applicants ensure that all the criteria (which is designed to mimic a typical prospect’s needs) are met, while other programs are simple checklists. Checklist programs are focused on fact gathering, rather than actually meeting criteria. For example, a checklist program may require that a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment be provided. A strong certification program will take the results of the study into consideration and require remediation to be completed if contamination is found onsite.
Everything in these programs is designed to minimize the risk a prospect will have to take on a piece of property, whether it is a financial or schedule risk. We caution companies to dig deeper to understand what criteria the property met to achieve certification, before assuming it is ready. For those communities that have completed the certification process and feel the property is ready for prospects, now the real work begins.
I Have a Certified Site, What do I do Now?
Too often we see certification programs spend an inordinate amount of time, effort, and money on getting properties certified, and they stop there. Achieving certification is not the end game, but only the beginning of the marketing process. This article will lay out five steps you can take to better market your certified site. States and utility providers that have these site certification programs should be a champion of the marketing effort and create a marketing plan that should consider, at a minimum, the list below.
Step 1 – Create a Brand and Logo
Simply put, a brand is what people think about your organization or program. What does your current brand say about your certification program? If there’s not consistent marketing efforts, it could convey that the program is unorganized or at an early stage of development, which diminishes the importance of the certification process. Branding should be a priority for your certification program. A good brand is built over time by using consistent implementation. By creating a brand and logo, the program is broadcasting to prospects and site consultants that your organization has taken deliberate steps to create a pipeline of quality properties. It provides communities and property owners with an easy and consistent way to make the distinction that a property is certified and what certification program it belongs to.
MSC recommends taking simple steps such as making standard signage for certified properties to be placed at industrial park entrances and boardrooms of state and local economic development offices. The exposure is low cost and simple to execute, and will make an impression on prospects coming through town.
Having exposure in boardrooms is a great prompt for further discussion about a community’s certified property which a visiting prospect may not have been aware of. Below are a few examples of some of our client’s logos:
Step 2 – Aerial Photography
Imagine having a helicopter tour of your property on file, ready for prospects to view from the comfort of your conference room. Advances in drone technology are making aerial photography of properties extremely affordable. Aerial photography and videography are great ways to orient a prospect to a property at a site visit, or even to send out in an email to consultants to raise awareness of the certified site. Often times, due to limited accessibility and visibility of a property, aerial photography can be a more effective way to show prospects a property than a windshield tour. Whether you hire an outside drone photographer or decide to fly one yourself, having a sharp fly-over marketing video and aerial images will help prospects and site consultants envision their facility on your site.
Step 3 – Create a Web Page for the Program or Property
Long gone are the days of getting a week’s notice that a prospect is coming to town, and having two days to wine and dine them and give them a community tour. Companies are better informed, come prepared with detailed questions, and may only give you an hour or two before they dash to the next community. The internet has changed the economic developer’s role in the process, and more time should be spent ensuring the community and certified properties have an effective digital presence. For example, some consultants may find a property online, visit the community, and you may never know they came.
Keeping this in mind, consider creating a web page specifically for your certified sites program or for individual properties, particularly for the larger parks and mega sites. It should be a one-stop shop for any site details, maps, visuals, videos, due diligence studies, community and labor force information, etc. Be sure to include visuals that put the property in perspective to the proximity of nearby metropolitan areas, airports, ports, interstates, and major companies in the area. Below is a great example from one of our clients, Dayton Power & Light, who developed a website to market their Ohio Certified Sites (www.ohiocertifiedsites.com).
Step 4 – Search Engine Optimization
Once you have the program or property webpage established, be sure to continuously improve your search engine optimization (SEO). SEO helps maximize the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine. Google recommends accurately describing the page’s content, creating unique title tags for each page, and using brief, but descriptive titles. Things to avoid include choosing a web page title that has no relation to the content on the page, using default or vague titles, using extremely lengthy titles, and stuffing unnecessary keywords in your title tags. In a recent Google search, the first three results for “certified sites” were the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Certified Sites Program, the Select Sites Program in Tennessee, and Louisiana Economic Development’s Certified Sites Program. How far down the list is your community?
Step 5 – Continue to Improve the Property
Prospects and site selection consultants like to see momentum behind properties. If they see that a property was certified five years ago, and no progress has been made in the past five years, they will begin to wonder if there is something wrong with the property. Consider taking steps such as adding industrial park signage, clearing a tract of land to improve visibility, or extending utilities to a portion of the park, etc. Taking these steps will show prospects that the community is committed to the property becoming a successful industrial park. This is especially important for those properties that do not have existing industrial tenants nearby.
Be sure to keep all of your certification materials and maps up-to-date with any changes to the property and reprint marketing materials frequently to reflect recent dates. For example, you should avoid giving maps to prospects with visuals from 2010 that have shown no progress in development or reflect inaccurate information.
Another option is to consider funding a speculative building on part of your certified site. When budgeting, most economic developers think a speculative building falls under the product development expense line. MSC recommends considering it as a marketing expense. Speculative buildings are great bait for prospects. One advantage of a speculative building is just getting a prospect to visit your community. The speculative building may not fit their needs, but once they are there, they may realize that a program at your technical school would be a huge asset or the community’s quality of life may impact their decision. Lure them to your community with a spec building and then you are in a better position to identify their key project drivers and adjust your pitch accordingly.
Contact your lead generators and ask them what opportunities your community is missing because there isn’t a building available. Find out what the average square footage size for building requests is and consider building a speculative building in your certified park. Landing a company in the speculative building will be a big win for the community, but consider all of the leads that the building generates as the real success.
Admittedly, a speculative building is not a cheap option. Work with local utility and economic development partners to try to raise the funds necessary. If funds aren’t available, there are less expensive options, such as having an engineer design a virtual spec building on your property or just padding and grading the site. The more risk and schedule you can eliminate for prospects, the better.
Economic developers have made great strides in implementing programs to develop certified sites. Now that a pipeline of properties is established, economic developers should anticipate that distinguishing themselves from the competition will become increasingly more difficult. Remember that certifying a site is a rigorous task, but not the end game. Adjust your marketing plan to accommodate the changing trends in economic development, and you will be in a better position to stand out among the fierce competition for new jobs and investment.
Beth Land is a consultant with McCallum Sweeney Consulting, providing site selection services and economic development consulting to companies and organizations worldwide. Mrs. Land joined McCallum Sweeney Consulting in September 2014. Presently, Mrs. Land is providing site evaluation and labor analysis assistance on major site location projects. She is also assisting on the site readiness program for Duke Energy as well as the site certification programs for the South Carolina Department of Commerce and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
In her prior role as Project Manager for York County Economic Development is South Carolina, Mrs. Land was responsible for bringing more than $655 million in capital investment and more than 8,000 new jobs to the County. Notable companies she recruited from 2011 to 2014 included LPL Financial (headquarters), Lash Group (headquarters), Exel (distribution), Shutterfly (manufacturing), UC Synergetic (headquarters), Ross (distribution), and Britax Childcare Safety, Inc. (manufacturing).
Mrs. Land’s prior experience also includes time in the aerospace manufacturing industry. She has a Master’s in Business Administration from Wake Forest University and graduated from Clemson University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with a minor in German.
Mark Sweeney is a senior principal with McCallum Sweeney Consulting (MSC), providing site selection services and economic development consulting to companies and organizations worldwide.
With more than 25 years of experience in site selection and economic development, Mr. Sweeney assists companies in identifying, evaluating, and selecting the optimal location for their capital investments. Such projects cover a wide array of related factors, including sites, infrastructure, transportation, labor and demographics, state and local taxes, and incentives.
Mr. Sweeney also provides consulting services to leading economic development organizations across the United States in such areas as strategic planning, organizational design, site certification, target industry programs, and incentives strategies.
Mr. Sweeney has assisted clients in a wide variety of industries for manufacturing, distribution and headquarters projects. Recent clients include BMC (headquarters), CalStar (manufacturing), Hertz (headquarters), Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp. (headquarters), Tronox (headquarters), PDM Bridge (headquarters), Daiichi Sankyo (pharmaceutical), Mitsubishi Electric (transformer manufacturing), SunCoke Energy (headquarters), SGL/BMW (joint venture carbon fiber manufacturing for electric vehicles), and Boy Scouts of America (recreation). Multiple project clients include Nissan (headquarters; auto assembly; engine; distribution), Michelin (tire and rubber manufacturing, distribution), and Dollar General (distribution). Of particular note are the Hertz headquarters relocation from New Jersey to Florida (2013) and the Nissan auto assembly project that announced in Canton, Mississippi (2000). Mr. Sweeney has conducted siting projects in Europe, Asia, Canada and most regions of the United States.
Recent economic development clients include state agencies (South Carolina, Iowa, Wyoming, and Florida); regional organizations (Miami-Dade, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; and Central Louisiana); and utilities (Duke Energy – Carolinas, Midwest, Florida; CLECO – Louisiana; Gulf Power; AEP; and TVA).
Mr. Sweeney spent more than five years at the South Carolina Department of Commerce, serving as Director of Research and Communication. There, he directed departments providing project management support, information management (including world’s leading economic development application of Geographic Information Systems) and communications. Mr. Sweeney was also one of the authors of “Approaching 2000 – An Economic Development Vision for South Carolina,” a state strategic plan for economic development.
Mr. Sweeney has a Masters in Business Administration from Clemson University and a Bachelor of Science from Appalachian State University. In addition, Mr. Sweeney was a recipient of a Murphy Fellowship for graduate work in economics at Tulane University.