ere’s a basic truth: I return from IAMC Forums happier and smarter. There’s a good reason for this. The semi-annual get-togethers are more than just an opportunity to conduct business. Just as important is the service they provide by reinforcing old relationships and forging new ones. They’re terrific opportunities to learn, to share experiences and to take on new perspectives about our professional roles.
But this isn’t just a promotion for the IAMC Forums. Of course, I’m going to urge all members to come to the upcoming Spring 2023 Forum in Biloxi, Mississippi, April 1-5. But this is really an advocacy effort for the new sensibility that these meetings provide. As we swing into a new year, I urge all IAMC members to pause a moment and reflect on that spirit of camaraderie, that sharing and that friendship.
After years of meeting each other remotely, with our associates framed by a computer screen, we’ve rediscovered the value of shaking hands face-to-face. There’s an energetic civility that accompanies these renewed relationships, a point that was driven home at the Fall Forum by two of our keynote speakers: Erik Weihenmayer, an adventurer who was the first blind man to scale Mount Everest, and Shola Richards, an author who introduced the concept of Ubuntu, an African word from the Nguni languages meaning “I am because we are.”
Weihenmayer’s key message was that, in pushing himself to overcome his own challenges, he found pathways to helping others. Richards’ presentation, while different in style, carried a similar message: By solving our own problems, we can find pathways to helping one another.
Whether the issue is the supply chain, a looming recession or even a landlord’s market, we’re all asking the same essential questions, and very few answers can be found in a vacuum. By collaborating, or simply commiserating, we grow. In addition, by solving our own problems, we can find pathways to helping our younger members, those living through these challenges for the first time in their careers. By doing so, by sharing our views and listening to those of others (because we never learn while we’re talking), we’re not simply paying it forward. We’re paying it around.
Words such as nurturing and caring aren’t — or traditionally haven’t been — commonly used in the heat of our day-to-day responsibilities, when we’re all rushing from fire to fire, emergency to emergency. In fact, they should be. Taking a pause to remember those connections, those words of friendship and sharing, keeps the experience of the Forums alive. By bringing the message of the Forums with us, we underscore the importance of the relationships we’ve renewed or started.
As we swing into 2023, it’s my hope that we can all keep fresh in our minds the excitement of Detroit, and remember the importance of sharing and comparing notes with our colleagues. If we can do this, I truly believe we can approach our own jobs with a renewed sense of the community to which we can all contribute. We can live the philosophy of Ubuntu. I am because we are.
Chair, IAMC Board of Directors
by John Salustri
Who speaks for the corporate tenant when a new distribution center is planned for a local community? The short answer is: Everyone, from the economic development corporation (EDC) and the community leaders to the corporation itself.
But this collaboration assumes that there’s been adequate homework by the appointed site selectors and service providers to ensure — as much as possible — that the local community is indeed the right fit for the project at hand.
“There needs to be a more transparent dialogue,” says Dan Grant, senior VP of Kimley-Horn & Associates, Inc. in Dallas. “The potential corporate citizen needs to share more information, such as how the project will provide a more vibrant community. But does the community want more jobs, and if so, what kind of jobs? Understanding the city’s comprehensive plan is very important.” And, he says, it’s up to the EDC primarily to answer those questions.
“We want everything immediately, but we don’t want any of the negatives that go along with it. There’s got to be a proper balance.”
— Julie Dow, Lockheed Martin
“The EDCs are in a unique position to be the voice of corporate users to the local communities,” agrees Jim Eckert, leader of Corporate Real Estate for Owens Corning in Toledo, Ohio.
At IAMC’s recent Fall Forum, the signature session, Info Exchange, tackled the issue of distribution center growth and NIMBYism head-on. It was brought out that, according to CBRE statistics, there are some 862 million sq. ft. of distribution center space currently in the pipeline of 60 of the country’s top metro areas.
Dan Grant, Kimley-Horn & Associates, Inc.
No wonder. One major driver of this growth is the spike in online shopping. According to Digital Commerce 360, in Q3 of this year alone, online activity rose by 10.8%.
“It’s the way of the world today,” says Lockheed Martin Director of Economic Development Julie Dow. “We want everything immediately, but we don’t want any of the negatives that go along with it. There’s got to be a proper balance.” The Palm Beach, Florida–based Dow moderated the session, along with Lee Crume, president and CEO of Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, and Brian Corde, managing partner of Atlas Insight.
How much NIMBYism is hobbling industrial growth is hard to quantify. But, according to Grant, a six-month delay in just one project, be it distribution or manufacturing, “can easily start at six figures, and grow to seven.”
Jim Eckert, Owens Corning
A Google search reveals more about the pushback in affordable housing than industrial development. However, no matter the type, “NIMBYism is alive and well everywhere,” Marilee Utter told GlobeSt.com recently. “I think that it’s worse due to the high volume of growth that we’ve seen in cities.”
Utter, who is global chair of the Counselors of Real Estate, adds, “It isn’t that these communities don’t always want growth; it’s the speed and the volume of it. The rate of change scares people.”
So does the type of growth. “Involved industry professionals have to understand what makes up the economy of the local community and how the community sees its growth strategy,” says the Fort Mitchell, Kentucky–based Crume. “A billion-dollar chip fabrication or battery plant will not happen for every community.”
What’s also commonly overlooked is that these projects aren’t flashes-in-the-pan, with only a temporary impact. “When we put facilities up, we’re in it for a long trajectory before they’re obsolete,” says Eckert. “That can mean 60 or 70 years. We’re trying to make our facilities more reusable and resilient. But our plants are basically machines with shells around them. So how can we do that differently so the building itself becomes reusable after we’re done? That’s our challenge.”
That decades-long presence also raises the question of the local area’s plan for reusable energy. “I’ve never had anyone tell me how we can harness the grid around renewable energy transformation,” he says. “Also, how can we ensure that that infrastructure will be there and be reliable?”
Another issue is perception. To uninformed citizens, manufacturing still calls up images of belching smokestacks. The fears mount with images of pollution — whether it be from noise, exhaust or even lighting, “since many operations are 24/7,” says Grant.
These issues are largely things of the past. “The majority of the population doesn’t understand today’s distribution or manufacturing environments,” says Dow. “They don’t understand that the jobs we offer are higher technology. You can practically eat off the floor of today’s manufacturing plants or warehouses. They’re super clean, environmentally conscious and ergonomically designed for the workers.”
Those reality-challenging perceptions raise their heads when the public hearings begin. Frankly, says Crume, “The local population often has no time or bandwidth to fully consider the benefits or challenges.”
When they do have the bandwidth, the challenges increase. “Let’s say I come to a community with a plan for a building that’s taller than the local code allows,” proposes Grant. “There’ll be a public hearing, and the city council will approve or deny the application, often without the knowledge of its benefits.”
While those hearings were once in person and designed for concise speech, this post-pandemic age has opened up channels for digital responses. “Now input can be emailed, and the writing can have a bigger impact because it can be longer and better crafted. The voices have gotten louder.”
Taking the Reins
So, who takes the lead? Grant suggests that EDCs are too often outward facing, focused on bringing a company in rather than informing the local gentry about the benefits that come with it.
“The cities — the urban planners — are responsible primarily,” says Eckert. “We know what we need for our business. In my view, it’s not our job, nor are we sufficiently positioned, to know what’s right for the city. There’s far too much ‘selling’ to the companies that want to come in as opposed to creating the platforms that ensure the needs of developers and tenants are met in a way that has a positive, sustainable impact on the community.”
“The EDC has to quickly communicate to both the provider and the client that this is either a great economic opportunity for everyone or it’s not.”
— Lee Crume, Northern Kentucky Tri-ED
“It’s a fair comment,” says Crume. “More work needs to occur. We need to understand the language of the business client, the elected official and the community.”
But the whole process has to start with the real estate service providers, in Crume’s view: “I suspect most corporate users are talking to them first. But there’s an obligation the EDC has to quickly communicate to both the provider and the client that this is either a great economic opportunity for everyone or it’s not.”
As for the corporate user, the prime responsibility is supporting the overall strategic growth of the company. That implies a reliance on the service providers, the local governments and the EDCs.
“They’re being driven to make good decisions for their company,” says Crume. Through their local advisors, “they become attentive to these other factors that make a locale a good fit. No matter how good the spreadsheet looks, if the community doesn’t want that investment, it won’t be a good program.”
Here it stands to reason that community education by the corporation, through the offices of its local advisers, can go far. But timing, through such means as press releases and news coverage, is critical. No one, after all, wants picketers outside their construction fences. “We can all participate in educating the local population,” says Crume.
“A positive release from the EDC can work,” says Dow, “but you have to be careful.” Making news, even positive news, can arouse the attention of competitors. It can also awaken local landowners to the fact that a deep-pockets corporation wants to move in, giving rise to price hikes. “There can be harm done if it’s announced too soon. Put the plans in place early so at the appropriate time you can hit the ground running positively with press releases, job postings and the like.”
Ultimately, site selection is a team sport. “But what’s right for Northern Kentucky may not be right for Central Kentucky, which may not be right for Northern New Jersey,” says Crume.
Grant agrees, noting that the most resilient municipalities “strike a balance where the tax burden is equally distributed between those who live and those who work and those who play. And every city has a different balance.”
If there is a commonality, says Crume, it’s that “everybody wants their groceries today, and that’s not about to change. To accomplish that, greater community education is key. The keywords are balance, coordination and education.”