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Site Selectors: Inside the Mind of Corporate Influencers

site selectorsHave you ever wondered what a site selector looks for when recommending potential locations to clients for business investment? The answer is accurate, micro-level information. And Michigan needs to do a better job at streamlining that data in order to compete in the global 21st century economy. That was the key message a panel of economic developers and site selectors laid out during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s quarterly Investor Briefing, “Site Selectors as Influencers of Corporate Expansion” in November.

“The role of site selectors has changed dramatically. We are much more focused on data analytics,” said Greg Burkart, managing director of site selection and business incentive advisory services for Duff & Phelps. “Secondly, the time frame we have to crunch that data is much shorter. Where we used to have nine to 12 months to work on a project, now we’re looking at 30 to 60 days.”

That’s why, Burkart said, economic developers with readily available and up-to-date information on workforce, graduation rates, real estate and quality of life stats can be the deciding factor in site recommendation.

“By the time a client is ready to pull the trigger, they have been looking at a site for maybe one to three years. When they are ready to roll, they are ready to roll,” he said, adding that workforce data is the No. 1 factor driving decisions.

“We’re always trying to find those pockets of labor that have unique skill sets,” Burkart said.

Community Partners: The Golden Egg

John Kerr, senior associate at Hickey & Associates, suggested that communities and business attraction groups each have a role to play in working with site selectors.

“Consultants aren’t just looking at data at a regional level anymore. If there is one thing communities can do, it is help cultivate some of that localized, granular data that can paint a clearer picture about what is happening in a particular part of the region,” he said.

Andrea Laramie, senior manager at Ernst & Young LLP., said while the state responds positively and quickly to site selector inquiries, more work is needed to procure timely data that does not rely on federal studies, which tend to be outdated upon release.

“There is another level that we need to get to. We have access to pockets of reliable data, but we have to get well beyond reports and news flashes,” she said. “When we take our clients elsewhere — whether it’s to other states or countries — and we are able to go directly to local access points like universities who are able to tell us, ‘This is what our graduating class is and this is their skill set,’ that makes a difference.”

Detroit’s Image Impact and Are Incentives Worth It?

In answering a question on the impact of Detroit’s image nationally and internationally regarding site selection, Denise Lewis, senior partner and leader of the Urban Redevelopment Practice Group for Honigman Miller Schwartz & Cohn LLP., said most of her clients from other parts of the country are generally receptive to the region.

“They are taking a fresh, holistic look at Detroit,” she said. “It’s the workforce, the number of businesses coming in, etc. They want to feel they are part of an upward movement.”

Lewis said businesses also look for established support for newcomers, as well as school rankings and quality of life.

“I feel uniformly that those who get to see and touch Detroit feel a lot better about it. We’re a well-kept secret in that regard. However, there is still an effort that needs to be made to have that better image circulated beyond those that get to come here,” she said.

Cooperation between the public and private sector and local government is also a key factor in decision-making, she said.

Regarding tax incentives for businesses, Burkart said Michigan ranks lower than other states and should instead invest that money into improving structural impediments in order to retain college graduates.

“Michigan has wonderfully talented young people. Use that incentive money to invest in public amenities that encourage people to stay,” he said.

Panelists agreed that Detroit and the automotive industry’s resurgence are big selling points. Other selling points include the region’s proximity to a major international airport, engineering talent, and being home to one of the busiest border crossings in North America.

For more information on the Chamber’s Business Attraction program, contact Maureen Krauss at 313.596.0367.

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