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From Site Selection magazine, March 2015

Time is Money

Site certification can be a crucial part of investing wisely — for a company, and for a community.

At the 100-acre Fremont Technology Park in Fremont, Neb., the virtual BIM model was created by JE Dunn to align to the master plan developed by Olsson Associates specifically to accommodate a 5-MW to 8-MW user of redundant electricity. The virtual building represented is 50-percent costed and timelined for completion, which allows Fremont to market the site to prospective built-facility seekers. The property is on track to be certified by the new Olsson Associates Select Site Program.
Courtney Dunbar is the economic development leader for Olsson Associates, a civil engineering firm based in Lincoln, Neb.
Courtney Dunbar is the economic development leader for Olsson Associates, a civil engineering firm based in Lincoln, Neb.

he selection of the perfect location for new corporate expansions is certainly no easy feat. Companies considering expanding or selecting new locations face a complicated set of tasks in determining where to place the facility to ensure optimal operational efficiency. Within recent years, the economic development community has worked toward making this process a little less cumbersome and markedly quicker through the site certification process. Site certification can provide significant benefits to bottom-line profitability through potentially expedited development and streamlined site selection processes.

In the primary development world, it is not uncommon for site selectors or corporate end-users to consider as many as 75 varied site selection criteria in determining an optimal location for investment. As a result, the trend toward seeking certified sites in the initial site selection search is real and growing.

Many US states have adopted statewide site certification programs and incented economic development entities to pursue certification of sites through these programs. Site selector databases often allow the ability to query certified sites as a selection criteria. Consulting firms, such as Olsson Associates, also find value in assessing site preparedness, and have developed their own site certification programs based upon known development demands and expected needs.

While many of the benefits to site certification may be known or assumed by the site selection community, there are other considerations that may not be as well known that can critically impact time-to-completion for development projects. The following factors are considerations that lead to bottom-line efficiencies as a result of choosing certified sites:

Comprehensive Diligence Standards

Site certification programs typically require collecting and analyzing a variety of natural and built environment factors impacting the function of the subject property. Property assets and deficiencies are documented, and mitigating controllable deficiencies is typically required. This allows corporate end-users an opportunity to gauge, with a comfortable level of certainty, whether or not the site’s capabilities will match the needed service.

While it could be assumed that sites that are positioned during the site selection process have undergone some level of diligence, the depth of information available is often not nearly enough for corporate end-users desiring to plug capacities information into their internal processes to ensure operational stability.

No longer is it plausible to maintain a “one-site-fits-all” mentality as it pertains to development property.

Site certification programs such as the Olsson Associates Select Site Program require the understanding of existing infrastructure, but also line sizes, capacities, volumes, pressures, and, if an attribute of infrastructure is lacking, what the timeline and permitting requirements are for mitigating deficiencies.

While the development process will eventually yield responses to these questions, the ability to have this information at the forefront of the site selection process saves considerable time and resources, leading to bottom-line savings for the companies involved in selecting from prospective development sites.

A First for Canada
Brad Duguid
Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure

The Province of Ontario in February announced Canada’s first site certification program, which gives developers easy access to important property information such as availability, utilities servicing, transportation access, environmental and archaeological assessment, species at risk review and “built heritage” assessment.

“By reducing unknowns associated with development, the program encourages faster site selection and helps get projects underway faster in Ontario,” said the province’s announcement of the program, which will issue “Investment Ready: Certified Site Program” designations to qualified locations.

Two new sites, in Strathroy-Caradoc, near London, Ont., and Edwardsburgh/Cardinal, near the university town Kingston, Ont., add to the growing inventory of certified sites that already included two in London and one in Lakeshore, Ont., part of the Windsor-Essex region next door to Detroit. More than 45 sites across the province are moving through the certification process.

“Our government is working hard to break down barriers and make it easier for businesses to invest in Ontario,” said Brad Duguid, Ontario’s minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure. “By working with communities across the province, we can showcase high-potential development sites to businesses from around the world, to attract new investments, create jobs, and facilitate an inviting business climate.”

Targeting Viability and Master Planning

The Olsson Associates Select Site Program requires aligning property diligence and function to tract optimization. Corporate end-users benefit greatly from clearly understanding, in initial site selection phases, how much land will be required for purchase to ensure optimum production and property protection.

Corporate end-users can meet multiple challenges in site selection that can be effectively mitigated through pre-assessment programs such as site certification. No longer is it plausible to maintain a “one-site-fits-all” mentality as it pertains to development property. Companies desire development sites that will fit their infrastructure and access needs so that they may construct the most efficient facilities tailored to their exact processes. Properties that have undergone thorough diligence assessments as required in the site certification process allow site selectors and end-users the opportunity to functionally represent their specific facility pad sites for development. This form of planning in the early phases of selection allows corporate end-users to maximize land use to facility needs and avoid purchasing more property than necessary for current or expected future expansions.

As in the Olsson Associates Select Site Program, end-users and site selectors should identify enhanced sites that will provide specific industry certifications to ensure that primary infrastructure, service, capacities, access, and encumbrances compliment specific industry sector needs. For example, an optimal rail-served site will not also serve as an optimal technology or data center location. Hence, there is a real and valuable differentiator created in sites that have assessed, aligned and planned for specific industry verticals.

The beauty of a diligence-assessed and master-planned site is that when the user positions its pad site and development requirements, it is possible to optimally represent this pad site within the site under consideration. This allows the representative of the land to provide critical responses to exactly where the facilities can be located, how much land should be purchased, how long it will take to cure any infrastructure deficiencies, as well as what the permitting process for development will entail.

New Location, Enduring Legacy
John Olsson
Founder, Olsson Associates
1926 - 2015

Olsson Associates, the national civil engineering firm whose economic development leader Courtney Dunbar contributed this section’s primary commentary, went through its own site selection process recently, as it moved from its longtime offices in Lincoln, Neb., to a new headquarters on the second and third floors of a four-story building (pictured) in Lincoln’s West Haymarket subdivision.

“We identified three criteria for our site in Lincoln initially,” says Olsson Associates President Brad Strittmatter by email. “First, we wanted to locate our headquarters in a signature project for Olsson Associates — one where we had provided a significant level of planning and design. We are proud of our work and wanted to ‘live’ in something we had helped create. Second, we preferred a location that was immediately adjacent to, but not within, the downtown district and the University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL). An adjacent location provides easy, near access and parking for our clients and employees. It also provides better functionality for our own fleet of vehicles, which includes trucks used for accessing job sites, compared to a true downtown/urban location.

“We also recruit and hire (both full-time and part-time) students throughout the year,” he says, “so travel time to/from UNL was extremely important. Lastly, we wanted a site that provided an opportunity for the firm to own all or part of the facility but that also had long-term marketable value should we deem ownership less critical in the future.”

Olsson Lincoln Office

Cultural Signposts

Four candidate sites made the cut, and after talking with landowners and city officials, “we decided that the West Haymarket District would be the best location for the future of the business, its employees and clients,” writes Strittmatter. “We then began a two-year planning, design and construction phase culminating in a move to our new location in August of 2014.” Tetrad Property Group was engaged as the project’s development partner in part because of its cultural match with Olsson.

The importance of that culture was highlighted by a more somber event in January, when the company’s founder John E. Olsson passed away at the age of 88. A contemporary of Site Selection and Conway Data founder Mac Conway, who founded this magazine in 1954, Olsson founded his engineering firm in 1956. In a 1957 speech he said, “In my opinion, the engineering practice is built on the professional integrity and competency of the individuals who make up an organization. Time will only tell if my little organization can fulfill these requirements.”

Entitlement Processes

Development entitlements are often one of the least understood obstacles that is not addressed when economic developers position sites for development opportunity. However, companies that cannot achieve a clear picture of development entitlement timelines and processes could be delayed for weeks if not months in gaining permitted access or beginning production if permitting delays are incurred.

Sites that have undergone a site certification exercise are almost always required to anticipate development permits required, timelines, processes, and costs for achieving permits, and can then work this information into their own development cost structure to ensure that schedules will mesh with expected development timelines.

Understanding development entitlement processes is critically important, as some restrictions can be mitigated while others will remain deficient, causing potentially deal-killing operational constraints for some users.

There is a real and valuable differentiator created in sites that have assessed, aligned and planned for specific industry verticals.

Future and expansion planning can also be better understood as a result of analyses completed during the site certification process. For example, the Olsson Associates Select Site Program requires analysis of air permitting attainment capacity in and around the sites we certify. As a result, the end-user better understands if additional ground should be purchased to control air permitting rights to serve current and projected needs while maintaining and allowing ground leases or controlled sale to parties that agree to work within the confines of the original landholders’ needs. Through site certification, timelines to development are reduced, land is better apportioned for development, and cost savings are achieved.

The most common buzzword in the site selection process is “incentives.” However, no incentive can overcome sites that have insufficient or skewed service capacities, significant development delays due to unknown infrastructure deficiencies, and stagnated permitting. Because time is money, corporate end-users and site selectors are wisest to invest their resources searching sites that have undergone site preparedness and/or site certification processes.

Courtney Dunbar is the economic development leader for Olsson Associates, a civil engineering firm based in Lincoln, Neb. To learn more, visit

The 410-acre MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor, Okla. — on track to be certified by the new Olsson Associates Select Site Program — was designed for phased rail-served access, and currently is in Phase-I build-out. All attributes are capable of being built and the rail design shown in this master plan aligns to expectations of Union Pacific. Prospective users have immediate access to very detailed site configuration and service capacities as a result of this effort.

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