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Episode 46 – Site Selection and the Guild Looking Forward

Site Selectors Guild
Episode 46 - Site Selection and the Guild Looking Forward
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Rick: 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 Weddle, president of the Site Selectors Guild. In each episode, we introduce you to leaders in the world of corporate site selection and economic development. We speak with members of the 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, Jay Garner, president and founder of Garner Economics and chair of the Site Selectors Guild. Today, Jay will talk with us about the state of site selection and the Guild. More specifically, Jay joins us to share his unique insights regarding the major top-of-mind questions impacting our economy as we come out of the pandemic and head into what we hope to be a strong and significant economic recovery. Join me as we welcome Jay Garner to Site Selection Matters.

Jay, to kick us off today, why don’t you take a minute and give our listeners a brief update on the state of the Site Selectors Guild? One of the Guild’s founding members and its current chair in this important 10th year anniversary year. I think you have a unique perspective and one that would be of great interest to our listeners. So, where are we today?

Jay: Hey, Rick, thanks so much for having me. And I’m always thrilled to talk about the Guild. I’m passionate about the Guild since I was blessed to be one of the founders. So, you know, we’re having our annual conference coming up in June and I’m calling that just informally, you know, not with any fanfare but I’m calling it the 11, 10 celebration. So, what does that mean? Well, the Guild will be 11 years old this July. We were founded in July of 2010. We had our first annual conference in Orlando 10 years ago. So, we’re basically having the 10th anniversary of our first conference. So, that’s why I’m, you know, just to put a little spin on it and I’m calling it the 11, 10 celebration.

Rick: That’s really interesting. I mean, that has a nice little alliteration. The Guild’s in great shape coming out of this pandemic.

Jay: It is. A lot of people have helped make it that way. You being one of them as our president and CEO. When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, we did what any well-managed, well-led organization would do to sustain itself and we did a pivot. The Guild was basically an organization that relied primarily on our two conferences to sustain itself. Our annual conference and another conference, a smaller one that we call the Fall Forum. And those were good, and they still are good, but we needed to diversify our services and our products.

And so we created a business plan that we called Guild Forward and it was a multi-year business plan that did just that. It diversified our product services and even took it a little step further and then allowed us to focus on other issues regarding our thought content, thought leadership, and then more of an internal focus on what we call executed effectively. So, we added a number of products and services. We added webinars that have been exceptionally well attended. At our in-person conferences, we had a little tool that we called Table Talk, where we got to network with all of the economic development friends that came to our conferences.

We started doing that virtually, and that has been a tremendous success, wonderful feedback. We did start offering some in-person small sessions that we call One Day One Sector Summits, where we focus on a particular industry sector or related sectors. We did that in both Nashville and in San Antonio this year. We had between 50 and 60 people attend those with 6 Guild members, and that’s exactly the size that we wanted to have. And now that we’re starting to get out of this horrible pandemic and that the vaccination has been deployed, needs to get deployed more, but you know, we have over 100 million people in the United States, thank goodness, that have been vaccinated.

We’re going back into larger sessions now, and we’re having our Guild conference in June in Orlando, June 10th through 12th. We are basically sold out for that. So, we’ll have about 350 people there. We’re still following all of the protocols and times to keep it safe. But a lot of I think our members, our constituents have been fully vaccinated and that helps it make it much more appealing to our membership. We are a for-profit entity, you know, and we don’t make any excuses about that. We were founded as a for-profit entity and that’s what we’re meant to be. And, you know, the Guild actually did very well financially during the pandemic because of the pivot. And so, we are a trade association. State of the Guild is excellent.

Rick: I couldn’t agree with you more. We all sat there just really in shock as we got locked down and went through that process. But I will tell you to your credit and to the credit of the board and the other leadership, everybody pulled together, was innovative, came up with new programs that really have paid great dividends to the Guild and to the stakeholders and the members all the way through. One program I’d like to jump in and get your comments on if you don’t mind, I’m sure our listeners would like to learn more about this new Guild Partner Program, recently launched, very successful. What’s the rationale behind this initiative? And importantly, how do you think it’s being received by both the Guild members and the economic developers?

Jay: Well, I’ll tell you what, we are excited about Guild Partner. So it was an initiative that was conceptualized again, as part of our diversification of programs and services of the Guild. But it was meant for us to raise the bar and have a long-term sustained dialogue with economic development organizations. And we’re calling those people Guild Partners. And so, they get certain benefits as a result of being a Guild Partner, which we know on our website. So if the listener wants to know more about Guild Partner, go to siteselectorsguild.com and they’ll see a tab Guild Partners to learn more about it.

It has been exceptionally well-received. We created categories for these economic development groups to participate, and we limit the number within each category. So we have smaller economic development organizations based on budget, midsize, large size, and then multi-state organization. So, again, we limited the number in each category so that we wouldn’t have, let’s say organizations with larger budgets dominate. We wanted to make it fair and equitable for as many economic development organizations as possible to participate. And to date, we’ve had 88 economic development organizations sign up. So, we are thrilled with the response.

Rick: Well, that’s just great, you know, and that’s really, I think you used the word earlier pivot. And so, pivot applies to Guild Partner Program also because it moves some of the networking from transactional if you will or one-offs to a more systemic relationship with the Guild.

Jay: You’re exactly right, Rick.

Rick: I think we will all find that that’s going to be a great asset going forward. Hey, Jay, you know, you are well-known at Guild meetings and assemblies for leading the, I’ll put this in quotes, “Ask us anything discussions,” which only a brave man would do just to put yourself out in that. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to focus in the time we have left on a bit of a lightning round if you will on questions, on topics of interest and concern to Guild stakeholders. We’ve surveyed some of the ED partners. We’ve got some feedback from them. We’d just like to kind of run through some quick hits on asking Jay anything. First up, here’s a good one. How do rural communities or small communities get on our site selectors’ radar and get noticed?

Jay: All right, here we go, lightning round. Three things. They’ve got to have product, and when I mean product, I’m talking about the availability of sites and buildings. Something that a potential investor can acquire. You have to demonstrate your labor supply, and then you have to communicate those to your audience. And then don’t forget, you still have to demonstrate quality of life, quality of place. So, listen, I have been around lots of small and rural communities that have great quality of life, great product, and they are able to demonstrate within a 30-minute or 45-minute drive time what their talent supply is. So, keep on keeping on with that kind of effort.

Rick: So, being a small community is not a disqualifier. It’s just understanding how to position that labor market and that product for the right niche, I guess.

Jay: That’s exactly right. And remember this last year, as you know, because you helped spearhead it, we surveyed our Guild members all the time about what customers, what our customers, our corporate clients were saying or thinking about investment. And remember suburban, second or third-tier communities, and rural communities were all getting more attention than the large urban environments because of all the issues that we’ve seen during the pandemic.

Rick: Good point. Hey, Jay, here’s a good one. How should an economic development official or economic development director go about the old bugaboo if you will of lead generation? How do they get leads?

Jay: Well, there’s multiple ways of doing it. One, of course, is the old-fashioned network. Coming to a Guild event, participating in Virtual Table Talk or in real table talk, coming to one of our conferences so that you can network. Remember Guild members and there are 55 of us now, over the last 3 years we’ve helped facilitate over $90 billion in capital investment. So it’s just not the Guild though. There’s other ways. Depending on what statistic you want to follow, about 70% of all investment projects that are out there are done directly by the company, not through a third party. So, obviously, you’ve going to have to have a target industry strategy. And from that target industry strategy, you identify companies within those NAICS code, those North American Industrial Classification. And there are firms out there that do those lead generation items. No one from the Guild does that because it’s a conflict of interest for us but there are those lead generation firms out there. So, anything that you can do to be proactive like that will get the attention of the potential customer.

Rick: So, it sounds like you’re saying have a product, know your product, understand your market, get your plan together, and then just explore every opportunity to network, connect, and reach out to companies and consultants alike to try to generate those leads. Jay, today we live in pretty much a digital world. Boy, haven’t we been this last year all locked down and stuff? And so, a website is almost an initial point of contact for a lot of communities. If you were looking today to advise an EDO about let’s just say the three most important things they should cover with their community website, what would those be?

Jay: So, the website is the face of your community or your region. It is your number one marketing tool without a doubt, no debate. It’s also, as I call it, the living room of your community. So, what do you need to put the best foot forward to present your community or your region? Well, obviously, it’s gotta be everything local. You know, so people are interested in data but you want to make sure that all of the data is local data, relevant items that you can’t typically get from a third-party data source. We love maps. The more that you can show geographically on where you are within North America, or if, you know, we have a listener calling from Europe or Asia or Australia, and we get those people by the way, who come to our Guild meetings, then anything that you can do to show geographically your position, latitude, longitude is a wonderful thing. Anything that differentiates you, shows your value proposition, that is a key environment. What you have on the availability of incentives, obviously, your talent supply, your sites, and buildings.

Rick, one thing that we are emphasizing more and more based on what we continue to hear from our corporate clients, and that is your regulatory process. What you can do to show that your community espouses speed to market principles. You know, I have this book, “Economic Development Is Not for Amateurs!” and I talk in there three key tenets of economic development success. Certainty, simplicity, and speed. And so, anything that you can do on your website to show how those three tenets can be successfully achieved within that community is a great thing.

Rick: Really good points to make. Repeat those again. Those three tenets.

Jay: Simplicity and speed. Let me break that down real quick since we’re in a lightning round. Certainty means companies want to know that you’re not going to change the rules upon them while they’re going through this process, you know. And typically, that might happen with some overzealous bureaucrat within say planning and zoning. You know, happens all the time. They become more subjective than they become objective. And so, that’s where the certainty issue comes in.

Simplicity is things like one-stop-shop permitting, anything that you can go through the process to compress the time. And then that leads then to speed. Speed to market. So, I was looking at LinkedIn over the weekend and I got some ads that popped up with an industrial park in a geography that I won’t mention but it was exceptionally well done. And their whole focus was in this industrial park, we can get you permitted within one week. And that is significant. That’s huge because I know places that would take weeks or months to get you permitted. And they’re not on the positive receiving end on potential investment.

Rick: Yes. So, when you’re in a hurry, that’s going to get your attention. And at that point in the process, you’re almost always in a hurry. Switching gears now, Jay, a little bit, let’s talk about some of the mechanics of site selection and really just talk about community site visits. Do you anticipate our site visits, in-person visits restarting, or do you see the shift to more virtual visits continuing?

Jay: You’re going to get different opinions on this but my opinion is right because I’m sharing it. So it’s already back, Rick. I mean, I started traveling in June of last year. Now, was I apprehensive? Absolutely, I was. You know, I took all the precautions and all of that. I have seen a significant return of many of our consultants back in travel since the beginning of the year when the vaccination started to get rolled out. Now we’re at a point as we all know that anyone who wants to get vaccinated can get one if you’re 16 or older. The question now is trying to get people who haven’t gotten one to get one.

So, while the virtual or the hybrid is going to, I think stick around for a while, it is a money saver, but at the end of the day, you know, somebody like me still has to be on the ground and kick the dirt. But when we are now doing things like interviewing HR people, plant managers, community leaders, we are able to do that now virtually rather than in-person. We still have to look at the sites and buildings in-person. So there’s the hybrid right there.

Rick: So, the virtual pieces that will remain will be those pieces that really improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of the whole visit process, I guess.

Jay: Yeah.

Rick: Interesting.

Jay: That’s it.

Rick: Interesting. If you could recommend one thing right now, Jay, that a local EDO could do to be better prepared for recruiting new business investment. What would that one thing be top of mind?

Jay: Product. No product, no project. You have to invest in product. Now, all of my economic development friends have been handed a gift, and that gift is called the American Rescue Plan. And there is significant money that’s being infused into every county in the United States. That’s there’s 3141, and then every municipality based on size. And I have the list and we use that just to see what resources are out there now. That money has to be used by 2024. So, what a wonderful opportunity to invest in yourself by investing in product. And now, you’re going to have the resources that allows you to do that.

Rick: So, the best incentive you could possibly have is one you’re making yourself, right, you make your community more productive. Finally, Jay, what’s next on your agenda as you pass the torch to new leadership at the Guild? Where will you and Garner Economics be focused in the year ahead?

Jay: Well, I’m going to miss the Guild. In terms of a leadership position, when I finished my term on June 12th of this year, I will have served 15 months as chair, which is a few months longer than anticipated because we did the date of the Guild. But we are leaving the Guild in great leadership hands to raise the bar to take us to that next level. In terms of Garner Economics, we are exceptionally busy. I’m in my 18th year of owning Garner Economics. Sometimes I can’t believe it’s been 18 years because you know, you were around in Phoenix when I first started my business 18 years ago.

So, we are exceptionally busy doing both location advisory projects. We’re doing two right now. Two at the same time. And strategy projects. We’re doing six right now at the same time. So we are very busy. We want to continue that book of business. And so, I’m hoping that we will continue to be as busy because being busy is fun, not being busy is not very much fun.

Rick: Jay, you’ve really given us a lot to think about. What a great conversation we’ve had today. And as always in the “Ask Jay Anything” section you didn’t disappoint anybody. Thank you for jumping into the details in the weeds with us. It’s been really a great conversation. But that’s really all the time we have today. So, let me say thanks to Jay Garner with Garner Economics, for talking with us today on this episode of Site Selection Matters.

Jay: Thank you.

Rick: Thanks for listening to this episode of Site Selection Matters. And a special thanks today to Jay Garner for helping us get inside and better understand what’s ahead for the site selection and advisory services industry this coming year. What an informative discussion and one that leaves us with a lot to think about. Again, I’m Rick Weddle, president of the Site Selectors Guild. This podcast episode represents my views and the views of my guests. And they do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Site Selectors Guild or its membership. We hope you’ll subscribe to Site Selection Matters podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcast. We look forward to bringing you some great discussions in the year ahead. Until next time, good day.