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Episode 3 – Launching the Second Decade of the Site Selectors Guild

Site Selectors Guild
Episode 3 - Launching the Second Decade of the Site Selectors Guild

Rick Weddle: Welcome to Site Selection Matters, where we take a close look at the art and science of site selection decision-making. I’m your host, Rick Weddell, Executive Director of the Site Selectors Guild. In each episode, we introduce you to the leaders of the world of corporate site selection and economic development. We speak with members of Site Selectors Guild, our economic development partners, and corporate decision-makers to provide you with deep insight into the best and next practices in our profession.

In this episode, we have as our guest Andrew Shapiro, one of the Guild’s founding members and the Guild’s 2019 chair. Andy Shapiro is a Managing Director of Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Company, one of the nation’s leading site selection and advisory firms. Andy leads their West Coast practice in his Walnut Creek, California office. During his 30-year career, Andy has advised clients in practically all industries, and managed projects and headquarters, back offices, R&D, distribution centers, and manufacturing operations. Today, Andy brings us a keen insight into both the Site Selectors Guild and the corporate site selection and advisory services profession. Join me as we welcome Andy Shapiro to “Site Selection Matters.” Andy, you’ve been involved with the Guild since its inception. Can you tell us a little bit about how it got started from your perspective and how it’s progressed over the last decade?

Andy Shapiro: Yeah, sure. I’ll be glad to, Rick. First of all, it’s really interesting to think that it’s been 10 whole years at this point. Time really does fly. And just in reflection, it’s surprising how much progress we’ve made at the Guild. We still have a ways to go and things we want to accomplish. But it was really 10 years ago, Bob Ady, my old boss at Fantus Consulting, which is generally recognized as the originator of the site selection profession. You know, Bob Ady used to get us together, a group of us site selectors who would attend the IEDC annual conference in various cities. We were typically invited to the conference to participate in the site selectors panel or sometimes some other panels or programs at the IEDC conference.

And what Bob would do was he’d grab a room in the hotel somewhere and let everybody who was there from the site selection profession, not just Fantusians, former Fantus guys like myself, but others, let them know that we were gonna get together for an informal, you know, hour chat, some coffee, just to kick around things. And so, it really kind of started there. We know the IEDC conference in Reno stands out in my mind as perhaps that moment when we coalesced around this idea that Bob had originated about creating an association of site selectors and so on. I may be wrong about that. But I believe it was at Reno.

And, you know, at that time, Bob had suggested that, you know, we pull together those of us who were in the room at the time and others who were in the site selection profession, either part of the old Fantus network, which was pretty widespread at this point. A lot of us had dispersed to various other firms over the years, especially as Fantus went away, as the brand disappeared. And then, you know, so we all got together in that one room. And following Bob’s vision, we decided that we would try to make this something institutionalized, something more permanent in nature. We didn’t know what it was gonna be at the time. But we were going to set something up that was more permanent, more focused on site selection, the site selection profession. So, I think that’s kind of, I guess, my informal history. I may be wrong. But that’s the way I remembered it.

You know, in terms of how the Guild has progressed over the last decade, we started out with a very basic vision, I guess. Again, taking our cue from Bob Ady, we started out with an idea that networking was a good thing amongst us. You remember about 10 years ago, we were just crossing over into an era of co-opetition, I guess you might call it, collaboration plus competition, you know, within lots of different industrial and professional sectors, and that included the site selection profession as well. A number of us had competed vigorously for projects. But we also, on occasion, would collaborate on projects as leads or as subcontractors.

And so, we started off with this idea that the Guild would be sort of a good networking venue if you want to call it or hub for networking amongst site selectors, a bit of a clearinghouse perhaps. Again, that was Bob’s vision. That was the start. We also thought that it would be an opportunity for us to share among ourselves some learnings, education, if you will, among us and to, you know, help advance the profession amongst those of us who were together. It also was clear to us that a lot of site selectors were being invited to various other conferences or roundtables you might call them, often sponsored by, you know, the magazines in the economic development in the location, decision site selection space.

We were invited to become part of these roundtables and conferences they were offering. And those of us who went to these, we often became the center point, in many cases, the star of the show. A lot of times, economic developers will sign up for these roundtables for almost the sole purpose of having an opportunity to network with site selectors. And so, we realized there was some value there that was leaking away because we weren’t being compensated for this. We were being offered opportunities to recapture our expenses and an opportunity to attend the conferences, travel, stipends, and so and so forth. But we weren’t being paid for our time, and our energy, and our intellectual power, if you want to call it that.

So, I guess you could say that one of the other things that Bob had in mind at the time when we began this idea of founding the Guild was that we would start up our own organization with our own conferences and our own content and that we would generate revenue, that part of that we would give back to the members of the Guild, rather than letting it leak out if you will. So that was important as well. You know, over the 10 years, since then, it’s progressed. We’ve now moved. We’ve now… And I forget how many people were around that table back in, again, I believe, Reno, when we started, maybe a dozen of us, maybe even fewer.

We’ve now got, I believe, 51 members in the Guild, and we’re still growing, which is… So we’re now at a peak in terms of membership. Our annual conference and our full forum, our two primary conferences, usually sell out within minutes. So, their popularity remains unabated. We’ve done a lot in the last 10 years to advance the profession of site selection, both raising the visibility of site selection, and we’ve made some real strides around the areas of education and best practices.

And I think, just importantly, we’ve learned how important it was to give back. We respect, and understand, and appreciate, and value the role of economic developers in the work that we do. And we have made efforts and I think we’ve made strides, certainly, in efforts to give back to the economic development profession. So that’s another thing that’s gone on beyond the initial vision of Bob. It certainly was, I guess you could always say, implied in everything that he had thought when we were starting the Guild, but we’re now actively working and promoting that as well. Our upcoming site readiness roundtable in Atlanta in a few weeks is where we’re gonna be leading, you know, some best and practice thought leaders around the topic of sight certification is not gonna be a revenue generator for the Guild. It’s really a break-even event.

But it’s an opportunity for us to give back to the economic developers and have them participate in collaborating, something that will advance knowledge and standards, and practices that will benefit everybody. So that’s an example, again, of how the Guild has moved forward from its starting date. And then, lastly, really, I guess I’ve got to point to you. You know, in the last year, we’ve gone on an aggressive and very thorough hunt for someone to lead us from the professional standpoint, be a full-time paid executive director. They’ve been really professional about getting you on board is is another significant achievement, another mark in the progress of the Guild over the last decade or so.

Rick: Well, thank you, Andy. You’re very kind in that. And what an interesting kind of walk down memory lane. You mentioned Bob Ady, who we all hold very dear in our thoughts. I mean, we think of him as the father of much of our thinking on this business for a long time and 10 years ago, now 50 members. I was talking to a member just the other day. And I haven’t really gone back to check it but if you think about it, he said this back in 1919 when Felix Fantus first established this company, I didn’t think about it. That’s a hundred years ago this year.

Andy: That’s a good point.

Rick: What an interesting trajectory to have a hundred-year and a 10-year anniversary, kind of coming up at the same time. What a history of both were big ideas, the site selection business when Felix Fantus really organized that first company, and how radical and big an idea that was, and then how big an idea forming the Guild was here 90 years later, now coming up on its 10-year anniversary. What an interesting…

Andy: I always look for those marks. And boy, I’m glad you brought that up. That’s really…that’s all new to me. I mean, it’s not new to me. I do remember that date 1919. It just never resonated until this very moment. So, we’re really looking at a couple of key milestones, the Guild being 10 years old, but the profession now at a hundred years. And you’re right. We used to have a library over at the Fantus office in New Jersey, where I started my career. And you can go into that library. And you can dig back into files that were 40, 60 years old and pull out not just client materials and project materials, but also Fantus tools, and advertisements, and brochures, and things that we used to market to Fantus back in the day when there weren’t all that many firms involved in site selections. And I do remember running up against an old brochure that was branded the Fantus Factory Location Service, the FFLS. And so, it’s, yeah, wow. That is…we’re gonna have to do something about that, Rick. We’ll have to figure out how to capitalize on that.

Rick: I wanna point out real quickly, I don’t remember 1919. It was told to me by someone in that period. That just really brings me to my second question, which really if you think about that old Fantus Location Service was I think Felix Fantus recognized the value of a professional site selection service way back then. Let’s talk a little bit, Andy, about site selection generally. From your perspective, why do you think it is so important that companies today, a hundred years later, use a professional site selection consultant when they’re citing new corporate facilities?

Andy: Probably for the same reason that it was important a hundred years ago to do this, and I guess for the same reason that gave impetus to just Felix and his company and Fantus back a hundred years ago. The location decisions that the process of making a choice that will have an impact on where a company deploys, its capital, its human capital, its financial capital, its assets, in general, these decisions can have tremendous and wide-ranging implications for the company and for business. It’s not the kind of thing, not the kind of decision, not the kind of process that ought to be relegated to an afterthought.

And let’s just face it. A lot of companies really aren’t prepared to approach the location decision-making process in any kind of organized way. Most companies don’t have this expertise embedded within the organizations. Those who are often within a company charged with making a location decision, this is not their primary responsibility. They’ve got a business to run as well. So, bringing on a professional consultant who is experienced and expert in guiding a company through the location decision-making process.

And you’ll notice that I’m not saying helping a company find a location. What I’m describing is a process, helping a company make a decision, which is really what this is about. Now, it’s helping a company make a very important decision. You know, again, it’s something that can have tremendous implications, and companies are not typically set up to do this on their own. So, you bring a consultant in because this is what we do. This is what we do 24 X 7. And a Guild member, in particular, we’re all deeply, deeply experience.

You do it also because the location decision-making process can often be fraught with… Sometimes, it can be a bit of a minefield. We’ve all heard stories about CEOs locating their headquarters and their favorite towns or cities or where they wanna retire. And I’m not taking away from that. We all have examples we can point to where that’s rung true. But the reality is, is that, for this to really be successful, it ought to be an objective and a transparent process. So, handing it over to somebody outside of a company and outside of a business, and letting them help guide this process through using, you know, data and facts in a highly informed process and keeping it objective really helps develop consensus in a way that it might not happen if this was all an internally-conducted initiative.

You’ve also got the issue of just confidentiality. So many times, if a company needs to make a decision like this, it’s gonna have a huge implication for the company itself and typically for its employees, especially if it involves the potential relocation or redeployment of employees. I guess I would say, as a general rule of thumb, maybe half of all the projects I’ve worked on never advanced past the study phase. If that’s accurate of the industry at large, then more than half the time a company will engage in a location decision-making process that will not result in a location decision, which means that half the time, there was no reason to get your employees all exercised and involved in something that didn’t happen, and no reason to distract them, no reason to cause anxiety and angst and the potential hits on productivity. So you do this internally. You do this externally, excuse me with a site selection consultant. And this process occurs outside. It occurs under confidence and it allows the company to go about its business, and it allows the company the space and time to make a decision. The last couple of things is just competition, in general.

I mean, when a site selector involved in a location decision that you typically…it’s a signal to the jurisdictions, the states, and localities that are candidates, that are the targets. It’s a signal to them that this is a competitive process, that it’s not something to be handed to them. They’re gonna have to compete vigorously for this under the auspices of a site selection consultant. And the last thing is, of course, you have the consultant I said before, who’s just got a lot of experience. And it’s not the kind of experience that you’re typically gonna gain managing a business, running a company.

Rick: A clear value proposition. I mean, I think that’s just the facts. The important parts of it have a clear value proposition. And I can tell you from 30 years of experience on the economic development side of the ledger, many times working with a company who didn’t employ a professional consultant, I thought to myself, “Boy, I wish they had one of the professionals helping them in this process,” because they do struggle through it a little bit. That value proposition, you articulated that very, very well.

Andy: And on that note, let me just say that what surprised me when I started in this business 30 some-odd years ago was the frequency that we would actually get referrals to clients from economic developers. I mean, and you’d think, “Well, why would an economic developer wanna get a site selector involved in this process, especially if they’ve already got a prospect in hand, right? Why would you wanna bring an outside consultant and that could potentially take this project and move it in a couple of different directions?”

But to the point you just raised, we’ve had economic developers call us and direct us towards their clients because the clients are incapable of coming to a location decision. So, you hire a consultant to help you just through the process. So, there’s always the risk, of course, it could go someplace else. But the economic developers appreciate the value of a consultant being involved in a project. So, I appreciate you bringing that up.

Rick: It’s pretty simple. It makes a hard job easy and better. I think that’s the way it really works. Let’s take a different twist on that quickly and in just whatever few words you could, why should someone who’s involved in the site selection business, the advisory service business, the real estate business, why should they want to become a member of this Guild? What’s the value proposition for someone getting involved, becoming active in the Guild itself?

Andy: You know, we have consultant members of the Guild embedded in large multinational organizations, you know, the big international real estate advisory firms and consulting firms, the CBREs and the Deloittes of the world, and others. And we’ve got consultants who work within very small firms, solo practices and small boutique firms, like the one I belong to. And for the small players, you know, being part of the Guild means your ability to tap into, you know, the marketing and the infrastructure of the Guild, and the opportunities to leverage the branding that the Guild is now leading the charge for around site selection, the importance of hiring the site selector, and the ability to network.

If you’re a big player, you’ve got many cases you’ve got that marketing infrastructure already in place. So, you may not need necessarily that Guild branding as badly. But the big players, they’re able to find out by being part of the Guild that, number one, it’s a good place to find talent within the Guild among the partner firms. It’s a great place to find partners with whom to network. You know, we have lots of examples of the large firms bringing in some of the smaller firms to play very specific specialized roles in projects, and engagements. So, there’s that opportunity as well.

I think no matter what size firm you are, all members of the Guild benefit from the ability to network among ourselves, to build some collegiality within the profession. We all benefit from the ability to generate some revenue for ourselves and to support the profession. And we all realize, big or small, that working through the Guild gives us an opportunity to give back again, as I mentioned earlier, to the economic development professionals that support us as well in an organized manner.

Rick: Hey, Andy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say congratulations to you on being selected Chairman of the Guild, this organization as it really begins its second decade of work and effort. As this year’s chairman, what do you really see on the horizon? What are the main priorities that you think will be carried forward this year?

Andy: Well, thank you for that, Rick. First of all, I do wanna say that I am honored and humbled to be selected by my peers to step into this role for the next year. So, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a very significant shout out to my two predecessors, in particular, Didi Caldwell, and Mark Williams, who have really set the table for me and made it easier, much easier for me to step into the role that I am in now. And, of course, Rick, as you know, you and I worked closely during the hiring process for our new executive director. I was on the committee that helped select you. And I kind of wanna see myself almost in the role here of protecting my investment now that we’ve… Because we put so much effort in the last year into finding the right person for this job. And now as the new chair of the Guild, I see it as an opportunity for me to leverage that investment that we made a year ago and work with you, which is important.

In terms of just the broader goals that we’ve got for the Guild, I think quite clearly the most important thing that we’re looking forward in the next year or so is continuing our efforts to raise the visibility of the site selection profession as a whole in the corporate location decision-making processes. As I mentioned earlier, I think fewer than half the…well, maybe I didn’t mention it earlier, but I think fewer than half of the major corporate location decisions are done without a site selector or a professional location advisor. So, we really wanna raise the visibility of the profession as a whole. And most specifically, we wanna raise the brand of the Guild and therefore, raise the visibility of the Guild members within the site selection professionals as being the best, among the best. So that’s really, really important for us.

We want to in the next coming year, so we wanna move forward on some alliances. There are charities that we see to cooperate and collaborate with other associations and organizations that are kind of in our space, in that real estate space, development space, and so on and so forth. So, we’re looking forward to some opportunities to do that. We’re gonna be looking at some new programming. Our conferences, as I mentioned before, they’re extraordinarily popular. They sell out almost immediately. But we don’t wanna just rest on our laurels. We really wanna really see…we wanna take it to the next step.

So, we’re gonna be looking closely at our content and the format for our conferences, and re-examining all of that, and looking at some new programming that we can bring to the market as well, that would benefit we think, our target audiences, which are economic developers, and also real estate professionals and corporate location decision-makers. So that’s gonna be key for us also.

And then, finally, just professionalizing and operationalizing the Guild. Now that we’ve got you on board as our executive director, a chance to really leverage your skills and talent and to bring the Guild, you know, closer to the goal of being a professional trade association and society and delivering real value to our members.

Rick: Well, it’s clear to me that listening to you walk through those priorities for the coming year or years, that the Guild made a good decision in selecting you to lead the organization for 2019. I wanna take a minute and thank our listeners for joining us today for this episode of “Site Selection Matters.” A special thanks to Andy Shapiro for giving us an inside look at both the Site Selectors Guild, and the Site Selection and Corporate Advisory Services profession.

What an interesting and informative discussion we’ve had today, Andy. Again, I’m Rick Weddell, the Executive Director of the Site Selectors Guild. We hope you’ll subscribe to the podcast of Site Selection Matters on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. We look forward to bringing you some great discussions in the year ahead. Until next time, good day.