Falling in love is easy.
People go gaga for each other every day.
It starts with a wink and a smile. Then the pulse races, the heart pounds and the cheeks blush.
And then — ZING! — another whirlwind romance.
Anybody can get swept off their feet and fall head over heels. But maintaining a lasting, meaningful relationship? That’s hard work. Especially if that relationship is between a location and a business.
You probably won’t find many love songs or sonnets about site selection, but nobody takes matchmaking more seriously.
Think of site selectors as corporate Cupids, professional marriage brokers who are sent by companies in search of suitable suitors.
But this courtship doesn’t progress like a romantic reality show. You won’t ever get a knock on the door and find a representative from Google or Amazon holding a red rose.
The site selection process is a bit more complicated.
Because expanding or relocating is an expensive and risky proposition, CEOs don’t leave much to chance. They don’t randomly mix and mingle, crossing their fingers and just hoping that they meet the location of their dreams. They don’t flirt in the grocery store. They don’t swipe right on dating apps.
They follow a strict process of nomination and elimination. They crunch numbers, pull data and cover all the bases. When it comes to choosing their relationship partner, it’s nothing personal... and all business.
If you’re a state, county, city or town that’s trying to catch a company’s eye? You’re going to need more than a clever pick up line and a snazzy outfit.
The first thing that comes to mind is a moment from American history...
On the morning of April 22, 1889, more than 50,000 people gathered on the open plains of Oklahoma. They came on horseback, in covered wagons and on foot. And they waited until noon when a single gunshot sent them rushing in all directions to claim their share of the 2 million acres that was up for grabs.
Thankfully, the practice of site selection has evolved since the Land Rush of 1889.
Today, the term “site selection” more often refers to a search for a new facility location by a business or government agency. Wikipedia’s definition mentions that site selection is about “measuring the needs of a new project against the merits of potential locations.”
It’s all about making a match with what the company needs and what the location can offer.
Most companies hire consultants to handle the process of site selection. They give the consultants a list of requirements and sometimes, a list of locations. The site selector’s main job is doing all the homework, legwork and hard work required to narrow down that list and help the company make a final decision.
The majority of a site selector’s work is done behind the scenes. They do most of the research and analysis in stealth mode. Locations are usually completely clueless about whether they made the list, if they were cut from the list or that a list even existed in the first place.
Even when site selectors start seeing properties in person, they usually keep their client’s identity anonymous.
So how can you compete if you don’t know whether or not you’re in the game?
Great question. First, you’ll need to follow the basic laws of attraction.
In case you were wondering, I’m not dropping the analogy between site selection and romance.
In fact, right now, I’m doubling down.
Before we even get to the 9 BIG THINGS, there are 3 LAWS that every location needs to understand before “putting themselves out there.” Conveniently, these LAWS OF ATTRACTION also work for anyone looking for love and human companionship.
Yes, love can feel exhilarating and magical. But the truth is, that at its core, love is part of a biological drive that has evolved over thousands of years to keep humans on this planet.
Much the same way, site selection can get exciting with all that hope about new jobs, fancy buildings and bragging rights. But the reality? Site selection is an uncompromisingly analytical, data-driven process that hinges on the bottom line. It’s designed to reduce risk for the company, not make your community feel better.
Accept the reality that you’re not going to be a perfect fit for EVERY company and adjust your expectations accordingly.
Understand who you are and don’t try to be somebody else. In the dating world, people can fudge their online profile all they want, but the stakes change when you meet in person. Suddenly it’s much harder to pass for a foot taller and ten years younger.
You’ll find the same dilemma occurs when it comes to site selection. Localities paint themselves as perfect utopias instead of accepting and acknowledging their flaws. Eventually someone from the company WILL visit in person, so it’s much better to embrace the truth up front.
Part of that truth is sharing your community data and demographics. Make it easy for site selectors to find the numbers that help tell your story.
If you can accept reality and practice honesty, then confidence will come. In the search for romance, it’s always the people who know themselves that seem to find lasting happiness.
If you want your location to stand out and attract the interest of site selectors and the companies they represent, then embrace who and what you are. Find those things that make you unique and put them in the spotlight.
I think you'll find that self-confidence, and site confidence, can be powerfully persuasive.
Every business is unique. A medical equipment manufacturer will have different site requirements than a brewery. Distribution centers and data centers are worlds apart. And there isn’t much overlap between manufacturers of rocking chairs and builders of rocket boosters.
But when it comes to what companies look for in a great site, thankfully there is SOME common ground.
The following list reflects many of the answers from a survey by Site Selection magazine. Every year, the publication questions CEOs and site selection professionals about the most important factors that go into a site selection decision.
While the needs of every business are different, here are 9 big things that can help make your location more irresistible...
This is a big one. Maybe the biggest. Companies can’t do anything without employees. When it comes to taking on the risk of moving to a new location, most businesses need to know that they will be able to find the qualified help they need. It doesn't matter what size or specialty, every company will demand access to a deep pool of skilled, local talent.
Companies don't search for a place where they can "get away from it all." They want to be in the middle of the action. The more your location is connected to major markets, transportation routes and resources, the better your chances.
Everybody loves getting a little something extra. In the case of site selectors, knowing that a location is willing to award some kind of financial incentive or waive development fees and/or taxes will always sweeten the deal. But keep in mind that few victories have been won by incentives alone. Incentives should be considered the icing and not the cake.
Not all companies are looking for a sweeping expanse of bare earth on which to build their bold corporate vision. Some are actually more interested in saving money and speeding up the process by moving into or renovating an existing building. Take stock of your locality's inventory and understand that too much of one and not enough of the other will limit your appeal. When it comes to buildings, make sure that zoning is favorable to new projects. In the case of land, highlight any certifications, infrastructure upgrades and utility access.
Speaking of infrastructure and utilities, most companies prefer projects without hurdles, hoops or speed bumps. Site selectors are keen on locations that can handle current demands as well as future expansions. Your chances at getting (and keeping) the attention of a prospective relocation vastly improve if you can save the company time and money. Locations with adequate roads, water, wastewater, electric, gas and broadband in place (or in progress) are much more appealing than a county or town that needs to start from scratch.
Most business owners are optimists. Simply by considering a relocation or expansion, they're betting that the future will improve on the present. They also understand that locations can grow (and shrink) over time. Any positive insights you can share about trends in growth, major projects or other important changes on the horizon can help tip the scales in your favor. Is your population booming? Will a major infrastructure project bring opportunity? Don't just share recent photos of your locality, paint a vivid picture of what it will look like 10 or 20 years from today.
Everybody wants to feel wanted. Companies don’t expect a grand ticker tape parade to announce their arrival, but they WILL want to know what it’s like to do business in your town/city/county. Will it be an all-hands-on-deck approach to help them succeed or will they be fighting uphill through mountains of red tape? Take a look at how your location is perceived by companies who are already open for business. Get an honest assessment of your current business climate before you start promising nothing but sunny days ahead.
As I mentioned earlier, site selectors usually avoid the spotlight like ninja warriors. They work most effectively when undetected. When they do reach out, it comes with the strict understanding that secrecy is the rule of the day. Details are kept on the down low because "loose lips sink ships." Late-stage site selection decisions are as important as the final hands in a high-stakes poker tournament. Local officials and economic developers who talk out of turn risk tipping the hand and blowing the big deal.
Last but not least is the biggest question for any CEO considering a new home for his business and employees: Is it a place where my employees want to live and work? Quality of life is often considered the "X factor" in site selection and can sometimes get personal for CEOs and company leadership. So while there may be some locations that check all the boxes in terms of bottom line business benefits, a location that offers natural beauty, great schools, access to culture and a family-friendly community might just steal the show.
The REAL secret to site selection success? There is none.
But here's the thing that every location needs to remember:
The things that make you more attractive to outside companies are the same things that make you a stronger, more successful place for the residents and businesses who already call you home.
Regardless of outside business interest, if you can focus on and improve each of the 9 BIG THINGS, success will come.
Let's go back to my relationship analogy one last time.
It's always been my experience that people who are obsessed with finding love are the people who have the hardest time finding it. Cupid's a sneaky little guy. He prefers sneaking up on people and letting those arrows fly when you least expect it.
So when it comes to making a site selection love connection, here's my last bit of advice for any town, city, county or state...
Work on yourself. Improve from within. Get yourself ready for the relationship that you want. And then wait for the arrow to hit.