At the Click of a Mouse... (cover)
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SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION
INTERNET-BASED SITE SELECTION
At the Click of a Mouse...
n ye olden days, way back in the early 1990s, the gathering of information that occurred at the onset of any site selection process involved making phone calls and sending letters seeking information, followed by more phone calls and more requests for information, usually culminating with lots of overnight mailing charges. Today, what corporate real estate executives and site selection consultants require to start the process is a computer, a mouse, and quick Internet access.
The Early StagesThe first stops along the information highway are generally the economic development sites of various communities, regions, and states.
"We view the act of site selection as a negative process where we eliminate locations early on so that we can get down to a manageable list of possible locations," explains Bob Goforth, a partner of Leak Goforth Co., LLC, a multi-service economic development consulting firm with offices in Jacksonville, Fla., and Raleigh, N.C. "Initially, we search these sites for information such as transportation capabilities, labor offerings, and general infrastructure descriptions. If a locale doesn't have what we are seeking from the onset, we can find that out right away via the Web and eliminate that location from our list."
Michael Rareshide, executive vice president and one of the four principals of Partners National Real Estate Group, Inc. based in Dallas, Texas, reports that half of his initial evaluation of a community is completed through Internet searches. "Initially, our Web due diligence consists of finding out about incentives, quality of life, labor and education issues, and getting a general idea of the cost of doing business in that area. The Internet information we gather gives us a much better universe to evaluate for our clients."
Rareshide, whose firm represents such tenants as Dow Chemical, Perot Systems, General Electric, Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. and Hibernia, says that using the Web has made him much more efficient because he can be better informed before he even makes that initial call to a possible community.
The bottom line? The Web is a timesaver.
"We can compress the time of the initial phases of our search because we are spending less time waiting for developers to call us back or to mail or fax us information. We do the initial search ourselves in real time using live data sources," notes Beth McClurg, director of CB Richard Ellis Industrial Brokerage Services in Atlanta, Ga.
Others share Rareshide's and McClurg's view. "By first utilizing the economic development Web sites of communities, regions, or states, we get a solid idea of what the locale currently has to offer in terms of basic MSA data such as census figures and wages," explains Tammy Propst, founder and president of the Tax Advantage Group (TAG) consulting firm in Greenville, S.C. "When we get to that first face-to-face meeting, what we want to learn next is where the city or county is trying to move and who they are trying to recruit. In other words, will this area be a proper fit for our client in the future?"
Narrowing the SearchTAG professionals have helped implement tax credit and incentive programs for hundreds of companies across a variety of industry sectors. Propst, who notes that 95 percent of her research is done via the Internet, says that once she obtains initial site information, she will dig deeper and link to other sites such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), accra.org, naiop.org, and city-data.com. Once the initial search narrows down locations, other corporate real estate executives and consultants also switch to more specific sites — such as costar.com and loopnet.com — to get detailed information on property availability.
The best Web sites out there, Propst says, contain links back to the original data source. "There is a ton of information on the Internet, but if you can't verify the source to a client the information is useless, so links to the information's point of origin are critical," Propst explains.
"The Internet is a good starting place and a good source of information, but it must be supplemented by further verification and research because you can never assume that the information is completely accurate," says McClurg.
Accurate Web data can make or break a location.
"We are looking for reasons to eliminate properties and narrow our search and bring it to a conclusion. So, if data is missing from a Web site, that greatly increases the odds that a location or property will be eliminated from our initial search," reports McClurg. "We recently completed a five-state search for a property that needed to be on rail and we had a very short time to complete the survey. We contacted the five states and went on their State sites and on various brokerage Web sites and if it did not say that the property was on rail, we struck it from the list without even thinking twice. That is why it is so very critical to have up-to-date information on every page of a site."
Web data also tends to be more up-to-date than facts and figures printed on glossy brochures.
"If a company produces an expensive, nice looking, $30 brochure, they are not going to want to update that too frequently from a cost standpoint," says Goforth. "Web site figures can be updated instantaneously."
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