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From Site Selection magazine, March 2017

‘Trust, But Verify’

The famous presidential phrase applied to geopolitics, but it can work in the geotechnical realm too.

Hickey & Associates

When a company embarks on an extensive site selection decision, there are a multitude of factors that are evaluated. In a typical project, we’ll crunch well over 10,000 data points. The data flowing into these evaluations cover everything pertinent to the location decision, including key factors such as workforce availability, operational costs, infrastructure, customer proximity, supply chain/logistics and regulatory policy, among many others. However, in the end, these factors may be a collective moot point if the site itself is not effective for the project.

As the site selection process reaches the phase of identifying specific sites, the due diligence begins to ensure the final sites under review meet the requirements of the project. Often, many of these sites have been pre-certified, and may also be referred to as, “shovel-ready.” When seeing these designations, a company can know that an accredited expert has evaluated the site based on specific criteria and characteristics, including presence of wetlands, endangered species, and utility infrastructure, along with a number of additional crucial items.

The certification of sites is becoming more prevalent across the United States, especially for industrial properties. State and local economic development organizations have been working for years with independent third parties to certify available sites. More recently, utilities have also invested in the pre-certification of sites within their respective regions. Utilizing technology and mapping software, these organizations have found creative avenues to highlight these sites for prospective customers.

As a company, these certified site databases can prove to be valuable for discovering an effective, optimal location. The decision-makers can be confident in knowing at the outset that these sites may meet the base requirements for their project. This can be especially beneficial for key items such as zoning. 

Nevertheless, even with a certification in place, we still work with our client to conduct a comprehensive review of the site before committing. When such a major investment decision is at hand, all due diligence must be undertaken to ensure the site will be effective for the project. In the past, there have been factors critical to a specific project that may have not been part of the certification. Also, there may have been modifications to the land or the infrastructure since the certification took place. When the certification was conducted, it was also not likely done to the specific scope of the project under consideration.

“Even with a certification in place, we still work with our client to conduct a comprehensive review of the site before committing.”
— David Hickey, Hickey & Associates

Companies must also not limit their search to only certified sites when making a major location decision. There may be varying reasons why a site was not previously certified: Limited resources from the property owner, recent market presence, and active remediation are just a few examples. Additionally, the sophistication and recognition of certified sites is still evolving.

In the end, as a site selector, site certification can prove to be a valuable resource when evaluating potential locations. Key factors may be previously identified that are vital to a project’s ultimate success. However, businesses must still conduct due diligence on the site to ensure the location is optimal for the project. Also, decision-makers should not limit themselves to only certified sites, as there may be another effective location for success.

David Hickey

David Hickey is senior director at consulting firm Hickey & Associates (H&A), which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016. A global leader in site location strategy, economic incentive advisory, and workforce solutions, H&A has active projects in the Americas, Asia, Europe, Australia, and Africa. For more, visit

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