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Site selection consultant tells Rowan leaders how to attract company investment, new jobs

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
It was a Boy Scout message for an industry-hungry audience.
Be prepared.
Mark Sweeney, a nationally recognized site selection consultant, told Rowan County leaders Tuesday that the preparations they make now in things such as sites, teamwork, workforce, infrastructure, incentives and quality of life will pay off.
Maybe tomorrow. Maybe five years from now.
But prepared communities win, Sweeney said, and attracting company investment and new jobs is more competitive than ever.
Speaking at Catawba College as a guest of the Ketner School of Business and the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission, Sweeney gave specific examples of how communities elsewhere were able to land the big companies.
In Marion, Ind., where Dollar General built a million-square-foot distribution center, it came down to a mayor’s leadership on troubling site issues and state legislation on incentives.
The mayor’s work led to 750 jobs and kept Dollar General from choosing its other favorite site in Illinois.
In Columbus, Miss., the community invested up front in a certified site with the best infrastructure possible to land Severcoor Steel, which invested $800 million and created 450 jobs.
Canton, Miss., invested in the education and training of its workforce, and it proved to be the deciding factor for Nissan to build an assembly plant that created more than 4,000 jobs.
Greenville, S.C., used a creative approach with taxes and incentives to attract a Nissan warehouse.
Olive Branch, Miss., depended on its quality of life and emphasizing its place within a greater Memphis, Tenn., region to attract a large Trex Manufacturing plant.
“Salisbury is a nice town, but it’s not going to have an NFL team soon,” Sweeney said.
That doesn’t mean Rowan County can’t leverage its regional assets ó its proximity to bigger cities such as Charlotte and Greensboro.
“The regional thing has worked pretty well here,” said Sweeney, a principal in McCallum Sweeney Consulting of Greenville, S.C.
Part of being prepared is having customer knowledge, Sweeney said. The clients he works for are profit-driven, deadline-driven, have multiple location options and are “risk averse,” Sweeney said.
“If it was your billion dollars you were investing, you’d be risk averse, too,” he said. “… We want to get to the right place with the right package.”
Sweeney said when his own company narrows down a client’s search to a handful of “finalist communities,” it means the clients could go to any of the communities and operate successfully.
The final decision on which community it will be comes down to negotiations (maybe with incentives), risk analysis, cost modeling and other things. Again, a community has to be prepared.
Executives of companies are passionate about their companies, Sweeney said, and they want to see that same passion from leaders about their communities.
Sweeney was once in a community where an official welcomed his client by saying, “We hope you come here ó we really need the taxes.” That’s not a good opening line, Sweeney said.
Sweeney’s large audience included businessmen, EDC members, county commissioners, municipal mayors and council members and college faculty and students.
Here were some other Sweeney observations:
– A community has to have “product,” and that product takes the form of leadership, sites, infrastructure, human resources, taxes and community assets.
– The county could have the best labor force, incentives, leadership and quality of life, but if it doesn’t have sites, it almost always will lose the clients of site consultants such as Sweeney. A community has to have a portfolio of ready, available sites because location decisions demand speed. Companies work off tight schedules.
– Taxes and what a company will have to pay in taxes are a major site variable. “They are considered in every location decision,” Sweeney said.- To many company officials, small towns are more of a risk, presenting a lot more issues to overcome. Again, smaller communities should strongly sell themselves as part of a greater region.
– For some companies, a location decision comes down to what assets a community has. A community should never stop investing in its quality of life, Sweeney said. Companies who would be bringing or recruiting people from around the world to a new location ask themselves, will they come to this place?
– Sweeney said it’s “very common” to offer incentives to existing industries which are looking to expand. He said growth inside a company often can be competitive among different locations, and economic development officials should make their existing companies aware of the incentive packages that might be available to them in that competition.
– Having existing buildings as part of a community portfolio is good. At the least, Sweeney said, a speculative building generates traffic and should partly be viewed as a marketing tool. If he had to recommend a size for a speculative building, Sweeney said, something in the neighborhood of 50,000 square feet, easily expandable to 100,000 square feet, would be a start.
– Asked if it were feasible to have an incentives package in which many local taxing authorities within a region participated, Sweeney said it makes sense on paper, but the execution is difficult. Many times there are legal restrictions and political obstacles, he said.
– Incentives are community decisions, Sweeney said, but if a community decided against them the impact would be immediate and substantial. Incentives don’t drive projects, but in the final decision stages, they matter, he said.
– Incentive packages can be designed and crafted to lead to the kind of industries a community wants, Sweeney said

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