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From Site Selection magazine, May 2012

Site Certification:
Now More than Ever,
A Critical Tool for
Locating Projects

President, Strategic Development Group, Inc.

Aerial photo looking north prior to commencement of site preparation activities at Bridgestone site in Aiken County, S.C.
Source: BING maps.

ite certification works.

This fact is clearer than ever as significant site location evaluations increasingly rely on certified sites as key input for short-listing sites and locating high-impact projects.

Site certification remains one of the most effective site marketing tools for economic development professionals desiring to create a competitive advantage in successfully locating significant manufacturing operations. Certifying sites confirms site readiness to a point that creates a benefit in the site selection process, leverages job creation, and attracts capital investment.

For corporations desiring to locate manufacturing facilities, access to certified sites presents a unique site screening advantage that reduces overall site location risk, saves time, and reduces site development costs.

Site certification creates significant value for all involved. Period.

Significant site locations on certified sites are well documented throughout recent years. Perhaps the most recent case study of a certified site helping win a significant project is Bridgestone's Off-Road Earthmover Tire location project.

During the summer of 2011, Bridgestone Americas retained Strategic Development Group Inc. to conduct an expedited site search for a $970-million, 550-job greenfield project that would make large earthmover tires for the mining and earthmoving industry.

Bridgestone's project needs included a site that could be developed quickly and that had validated geotechnical, environmental and archeological conditions, as well as confirmation of heavy and redundant utilities. The accelerated timeline to locate a suitable site, complete site due diligence, transfer ownership and begin site preparation was five months. Construction delays or site-related cost overruns were not an option for this project.

In order to meet this timeline, Strategic Development Group formulated a multiple-state site search strategy that focused primarily on certified sites or sites that could readily confirm readiness for development. States and regions within the general search area that did not have certified sites or sites with available documentation of their readiness were quickly eliminated from the search.

One month after the search began, SDG was presented with a site that had been certified by the South Carolina certification program. Through the certification process, this 550-acre greenfield site had completed due diligence, confirming overall site feasibility and reducing site development risk.

By late September 2011, SDG completed state and local negotiations and remaining due diligence; the project was announced on September 21, 2011. From a location consultant's perspective, site certification was the most critical factor in choosing Aiken County, S.C., for Bridgestone's Off-Road Tire facility.

Bridgestone Site Timeline
Source: Strategic Development Group, Inc.

Site Certification Parameters
Remain the Same

The practice of certifying sites has expanded significantly in recent years, with certification processes often being directed by professional site consultants.

Additionally, a common practice in some state-run certification processes is to enlist expertise of a committee of allies that may include utility and economic officials. It is critical when certifying sites to confirm the following site parameters:

1) A property is controlled through ownership or option and is readily available for ownership transfer to the prospect,

2) Utilities, principally electricity, water, sewer, gas, and telecommunications, are present or can be quickly delivered to the site in suitable quantities for targeted project sizes; larger sites require utilities to have larger capacities and redundancy,

3) Environmental, geotechnical, and archeological studies have identified any areas of risk,

4) The site's shape is conducive to development and expansions, and a developable footprint is confirmed,

5) The site's buffer is adequate for the type of businesses likely to consider the site, and

6) Transportation access exists for employees, raw materials/supplies, and product shipments.

Taking Site Certification to the Next Level:
Other Key Factors That Enhance
the Quality of Certified Sites

To elevate the quality of site certifications above technical aspects identified above, there are a number of additional qualitative factors that are critically important in the site certification process.These elements have been overlooked by some certification programs and must be considered:

Common Sense: Consider the
Site Consultant's and Prospect's Perspective

Common sense, as simple as it sounds, must be considered when certifying sites. Confirming only the technical aspects of a site is not enough. A site certification that has all technical elements in place, but lacks consideration of other critical site qualities is far less likely to attract projects.

For example, if a site has extreme topography, is directly in a runway approach for an airport, has significant rail crossings adjacent to primary ingress and egress for a site, or has housing or commercial development too close, the site may be eliminated early even if technical qualities have been verified.

Certify Based on
Your Community's Assets

Bridgestone Site in Aiken, S.C.
Photo courtesy of Bridgestone

Why certify a site in your area that is designed to attract companies who value assets that differ from those your community offers? Communities must carefully evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses with respect to labor draw, rail access and utility service capabilities in order to certify sites that will best match and attract corporate locations seeking these assets. Not every location is well suited for promoting a site for large projects, such as automotive assembly.

Promptly Eliminate Sites That
Do Not Meet Certification Criteria

Certifying sites can be an expensive process. It is important to structure the certification process for identification and elimination of sites early in the process that are not expected to meet certification criteria. This practice saves both time and money and allows a more intense focus on those sites that will become certified.

New Site Certification Trends

Several new practices in site certification make certified sites even more attractive to location prospects.

These practices include:

1) Retaining site location consultants to review sites certified by economic development organizations; this practice adds a "site consultant's perspective" to many certification programs thereby enhancing their value.

2) Increasing use of "specialty" certifications, including data center and agricultural uses; this practice further differentiates sites, making them more attractive to projects with special infrastructure, rail, communications or other needs.

3) Recertifying sites to confirm that no aspects of site certification that would inhibit site development, such as environmental conditions, have changed.


For site consultants and their corporate clients, narrowing sites to a short list of candidates that clearly meet a client's goals with

Mark Williams
minimal risk and cost is critical.As site search timelines become more compressed, the availability of site data generated through quality site certification programs will be increasingly attractive to site selectors and their corporate clients.

As the economy continues its recovery, site location projects will likely become more frequent, making site readiness identified by quality site certification programs an important marketing tool for economic developers.

A key message to economic development professionals is that site certification, if carried out with consistent standards and application

of critical qualitative factors, works.For corporations considering site locations, sites certified correctly will significantly reduce development risks and related delays to project timelines while simultaneously generating cost savings.

Mark Williams is president of Strategic Development Group Inc.

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