growing number of U.S. states, as well as the province of Ontario in Canada, have developed their own industrial site certification programs over the past decade or more: Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin among them.
Tier 1 railroads offer strong programs too: BNSF’s Certified Sites program now has climbed to 28 sites in the U.S. and one in Saskatchewan. The most recent additions to the program are 103 acres in Somerville, Texas, and the 45-acre Fort Peck Industrial Park in Poplar, Montana. Union Pacific’s Focus Sites program also has 28 sites in its portfolio, from Santa Teresa, New Mexico, to Janesville, Wisconsin. The pioneering CSX Select Sites program has 24 sites in its arsenal — with seven of them already sold. And while Norfolk Southern does not “certify” sites per se, its new NSites GIS tool features over 800 industrial sites available for sale or lease, and over 250 transload facilities, all verified as rail accessible.
Utility economic development departments are the most frequent champions of site certification programs. The common concern about a dearth of land for industrial development has also spawned programs such as LG&E/Kentucky Utilities’ Site ID program, which surveys privately held land for potential industrial development, and Duke Energy’s Site Readiness program that works with communities to find and assemble sites. Stories abound about longtime community landholders wanting to see their property contribute to the economic prosperity of their home region after they’re gone.
A survey of utility site certification and preparation news as well as information provided to Site Selection as part of our annual Top Utilities in Economic Development rankings (September 2021) yield these tidbits of news you can use:
AEP: Among other activities, the team has pivoted from in-person meetings to deliver web-based prospect visits and more drone site videos; enhanced site identification GIS capabilities; and established new site readiness programs and AEP Quality Sites programs.
Alabama Power: In 2020 the Alabama Power Co. (APC) team rebranded its nearly 30-year-old site development revolving loan fund as Build To Grow, and increased funding to help impact more communities, already resulting in a successful $15.4 million, 73-job investment in a spec building participating in the program.
Alliant Energy: The utility since the pandemic’s onset has launched a new interactive mapping project that allows consultants and real estate executives to evaluate industrial sites — including certified sites in the Iowa and Wisconsin programs — without travel. “It is essential to maintain close relationships with our region’s utility partners,” said Andy Sokolovich, vice president of economic development, Clinton Regional Development Corporation, of his community’s Lincolnway Industrial Rail & Air Park, certified by the state in 2016, “and Alliant Energy continues to support our efforts as contributing members of a thriving community.”
Ameren: Ameren Illinois implemented new economic development incentives to encourage economic growth in its largely rural service territory and the development of shovel-ready sites by providing flexible payment options for upfront costs and refundable deposits toward the cost of energy infrastructure. Also in 2020, Ameren Missouri launched the Site Readiness Planning Grant to assist communities with up to $15,000 in matching grant funds as they look to advance existing sites to Missouri Certified Site status. Four new certified sites were to be added in 2021.
Duke Energy: A total of 21 sites were evaluated through the Duke Energy Site Readiness Program in 2020. Indiana and Florida rolled out the Strategic Sites Inventory program to expand the inventory of developable sites in the communities Duke Energy serves even further. Duke Energy Florida created a Site Readiness Guide.
Entergy: Program activities at Entergy Louisiana included 13 site development projects and nine site certifications within Louisiana Economic Development’s program, among them three sites in Lafayette Parish. “These three new certified sites are a result of the strong partnerships the city has forged with others like the BEDC [Broussard Economic Development Corporation] and One Acadiana. Partnerships such as these allow us to stack wins to build success,” said Broussard Mayor Ray Bourque. “Certified sites attract manufacturing facilities that bring jobs to our citizens and great growth opportunities, not only for our city but also for our entire region. We’ve already seen tremendous success with our first certified site, which is the home of the new Ochsner SafeSource Direct PPE plant that will provide 2,200 direct and indirect jobs. This is a huge win for all of Acadiana.”
Evergy: Evergy partnered with the State of Kansas in launching a statewide site certification program.
FirstEnergy: The team in 2020 concluded work on several strategic initiatives, including its FirstSites program that puts the utility’s stamp of approval on pad-ready sites.
Florida Power & Light (Next Era): In 2020, Gulf Power, now officially part of FPL, relaunched its “Florida First Sites” certified sites program. During its initial phase, nine sites were certified. “More than half of these sites have attracted new investment following certification,” said the utility.
LG&E/KU: “LG&E and KU enhanced the marketability of sites by an extensive review of RFI responses & visits; a long-term commitment of $238,410 in zero-interest loans to develop industrial land; engagement with a consultant & the creation of a Site ID Program to assesses private land for potential industrial development,” the Kentucky utilities said in their submission last September. LG&E/KU is a founding leader and financial contributor for the statewide Product Development Initiative (KY-PDI), whereby communities apply for matching grants to improve sites. In 2020, 36 communities received third-party consultations, and nine communities shared $3 million in grants from the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. to be matched locally. LG&E/KU also established a deal closing fund for site grant matching or direct-to-company funding.
South Carolina Power Team: Launched in 2014 and expanded in 2019, the Site Readiness Fund has leveraged a total of $217 million in combined funding on 36 projects. So far, sites in the program have welcomed 40 MW worth of projects from companies investing nearly $1.5 billion and creating 4,965 new jobs.
Sunflower Electric Power: Sunflower Electric Power Corporation is a regional wholesale power supplier that operates a system of solar wind, natural gas, and coal-based generating plants and a transmission system of approximately 2,400 miles for the needs of its seven member electric cooperatives, who serve customers living in central and western Kansas. In March 2021, the 245-acre Dodge City Business Park became the first organization to complete the site certification process through the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation Certified Sites Program. In October, Unified Greeley County completed the site certification process for a light industrial property in Tribune, Kansas.
Tennessee Valley Authority: The TVA’s emphasis on sites is in its URL: TVAsites.com. TVA’s InvestPrep program since 2012 has helped leverage funding in communities for site development needs. The program’s success has spurred over $1 billion in capital investment, with 26 plant locations, and over 7,000 jobs in the Valley.
Xcel Energy: Projects landing in Xcel territory in recent history have included a Costco depot on an Xcel Energy Certified Site. Xcel maintains a sophisticated digital inventory of more than 90 Certified Sites, Ready Sites and Ready Buildings across its eight-state territory. A survey of the utility’s three categories of sites in February showed 48 sites or buildings available, and 13 taken off the list thanks to full occupancy or leasing. Among those successful sites is a 102-acre parcel in Greeley, Colorado, called The Grainery; a nearly 48,000-sq.-ft. building at Centennial Business Park in Centennial, Colorado; and a 411,000-sq.-ft. building in Louisville, Colorado.