“COMMUNITY PREPAREDNESS IS KEY TO SUCCESS”

Have you ever wondered why that “other community” seems to have all the success in economic development? Have you ever wondered, “why not our community”? Have you ever had a local elected official ask why the community across the county landed that project and yours didn’t? It’s a familiar position for many rural economic developers. The question remains; what can we do to change it?

In my conversations with site selection consultants and corporate real estate representatives, they consistently share their frustrations regarding communities that are not prepared to engage in the site selection process. In many cases, these communities have assets that are attractive to companies but the communities aren’t in a position to quantify these deliverables. More often than not, these communities are eliminated from consideration and may not ever know that they were.

Before you think, Corey you don’t understand our community. We are too small for industrial investment. Let me share some numbers from a rural community with a population of 1,100 that is experiencing tremendous growth. Over the last twelve months, new projects have led to the creation of over 100 new FTE jobs and over $3 million in private investment. In addition, these projects have triggered additional investment dollars for the community through federal and state grant programs totaling over $3 million for infrastructure improvements. Before you discount these types of jobs in rural communities, one local company reports starting wages of $18 per hour plus benefits.

In addition to these industrial projects, the community is experiencing commercial and retail growth as well. Both local and corporate retailers, restaurateurs and developers are making new investment throughout the community. In fact, local developers and the City are now working together to address a housing need. Several additional industrial projects are in process that will create additional jobs and private investment as well as trigger additional federal and state grant funding for additional infrastructure improvements.

How does this happen? As you know, there is no magic bullet. However, communities can position themselves for success by working together with area partners to ensure their community is prepared for both expansion and attraction investment opportunities.

TOP TEN CHARACTERISTICS OF A PREPARED COMMUNITY

While there is no one formula that works for every community, there are a number of steps communities can take to better position themselves for success. The following list is certainly not exhaustive but I have compiled a top ten list that communities can use to start the conversations.

  1. Workforce: According to Area Development Magazine’s 12th Annual Consultants Survey, the number one and number two most important site selection factors are the availability of skilled labor and labor costs respectively. In addition, according to site consultants, it is incumbent upon local communities to have a complete understanding of their workforce assets and to have the ability to quantify their Labor Availability/Cost/Skills etc. Consultants also strongly suggest that communities have a current independent third-party labor survey on hand to confirm these findings. Successful communities understand that workforce is the currency of economic development.

  2. Accessibility: A community’s proximity to major domestic markets and access to global markets is critical for employers who are bringing in raw materials and shipping out finished goods. Proximity maps should demonstrate the area’s transportation corridors including drive times etc.

  3. Relevant Incentives: Communities must provide access to federal, state and local incentives to support business development. These programs must be relevant to the company and those programs that are front-end loaded, to help offset initial capital expenditures, are preferred by most companies.

  4. Available Sites/Buildings: Real estate is considered a community’s inventory but it is not enough to simply market available buildings and sites. Certified sites or similar designations are important as they reduce or even eliminate potential risk for companies and can expedite the site selection process timeline by months. In addition, communities should be in a position to offer expedited or “Fast Track” permitting as well. Significant capacity in utility infrastructure, existing industrial facilities and plug and play facilities are also attractive to companies looking to move quickly through the process.

  5. Transportation Infrastructure: Access to a multi-modal transportation network to include: highway, river, rail and air access is critical for companies looking to move products to both domestic and global markets. Helping companies understand the existing assets in your area and how they can connect to various transportation arteries across the country to meet the companies’ needs is important. It is also important to help companies understand the inbound/outbound shipping costs at the proposed location.

  6. Affordability: It is important that communities work to ensure a low-cost business environment to include low taxation, low labor costs, low utility expenses, and competitive permitting fees. Often rural communities can have a distinct advantage in this area over their urban counterparts.

  7. Education/Workforce partnerships: Local workforce development partnerships are critical to a company’s comfort level that the Area Labor Market is capable of supplying the needed number of quality employees. Workforce development plans must include customized training resources, certificate and degree programs through local educational institutions and funding assistance for the companies.

  8. Supply Chain: Communities should maintain a list local vendors/suppliers located in the area to source materials for production. A local supply chain provides cost benefit to the company and a district advantage for the local community. These supply chain advantages should be marketed.

  9. Quality of Life: One of the most important factors for attracting and retaining quality employees is the quality of place. Local assets include quality schools, parks, trails, lakes etc. Demonstrating that your community is a place employees enjoy living will give employers’ confidence in the ability to attract and retain employees for years to come.

  10. Customer Service: Online access to pertinent community data is critical for site consultants and company representatives and should include: labor data, building/sites, tax information, incentive programs, business environment, energy costs, education/training opportunities, quality of life, demographics, major employers, transportation infrastructure, accessibility/proximity information and permitting information.

Community preparedness is the key to success. While there is never a guarantee, one thing’s for sure not being prepared is a recipe for misfortune. Possessing a complete understanding of your assets related to the top ten list above, being prepared to quantify those assets for prospects and marketing those assets to decision makers will affix your community on the road to the short list.

Corey J Mehaffy, CEO

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