Attracting a new business to a community is one of the most challenging things an economic development organization does.
An economic development corporation (EDC) typically receives request for proposals (RFP) with a tight deadline for submission. An EDC’s goal is to stay on the list and make it to the next phase.
A site selector often represents a company during the process. As their name would imply, a site selector helps select a new or expanded location for a business. During the RFP process, a site selector tries to eliminate communities from their list, and in some cases, that could mean eliminating the community the company is currently operating from.
So when we invited Phil Schneider, Schneider Strategy Consulting, one of the nation’s top site selectors, to town to talk about his impressions of Fargo Moorhead, those of us in economic development paid pretty close attention.
Schneider said when working with a company they will quickly establish a baseline. That is, the items the company needs a community to have. According to Schneider, that allows them to make a decision with the most objectivity. For example, the company might need large amounts of water or access to rail; the list is as varied as the companies.
There are several challenges a community might face when trying to attract a new business (or support expansion). Workforce development gets a lot of attention, and it is the number one barrier to growth. It’s a challenge that a majority of communities face. The second barrier is a lack of available property to expand.
So what can a community do to increase its chances?
Fueling Our Future (FOF), led by the EDC and Chamber, as one of its objectives, is focused on creating a regional certified shovel-ready site program. Creating shovel-ready sites will help eliminate the second barrier – a lack of available property.
Schneider has been brought in to assist in the process of creating certified shovel ready sites in Cass and Clay counties. The project is a unique collaboration including FOF, the cities and the regional utilities.
A shovel-ready site is one that project work can begin almost immediately because technical studies, engineering work and surveying have been done. Initial planning stages are complete, and environmental clearances are in place. Speed to market is critical for most major projects and having a shovel-ready site in place can save a company millions of dollars in time saved.
Of course, Schneider also provided his perceptions of our metro. Prior to research, his perceptions might not surprise you. They included comments like: where exactly?, small, farming and hard to get to. After a little internet research, Schneider’s impression quickly changed. He described a metro as a business-friendly, dynamic economy that’s innovative and growing. He saw well-to-do prosperous companies and a well-educated population. He added that the community was a lot more diverse than he would have expected.
“You punch way above your weight when it comes to technology (companies),” said Schneider.
Recognizing the importance of opinions from people like Schneider, FOF leadership will also look into bringing more opinion-makers like Schneider to our region so they too can learn first-hand the diversity and value the Greater Fargo-Moorhead region can bring to other companies.