The Power of Influence
Location hunting is a unique undertaking by executives and business owners that has no real parallel most of us can relate to. In buying a home, we as consumers rely on realtors to provide relevant information and make the market. But for a company, sifting through the matrix of factors across thousands of possible communities around the world can be overwhelming and impractical. And the stakes are enormous. A poor choice can cost careers and threaten the future, even survival, of the company.
That’s why many executives call on help from site selection consultants well-versed in sorting through vast stores of data and matching the economic assets of communities with needs of expanding companies. But consultants provide much more than numbers and formulas; they bring credibility that influences both the long and short lists of possible destinations, sites and buildings – and, ultimately, the final choice.
In fact, judging from a recent survey by Area Development magazine, about 25 percent of site consultants say clients rely on them to make the final call on their behalf. Thus, to call location advisors “influencers” doesn’t always do justice to their role.
Just over half those consultants responding to Area Development reported working on behalf of durable-good manufacturers and distribution and logistic operations. Nearly as many said they had worked with non-durable goods manufacturers on location projects (obviously some consultants have headed up searches in all these industries). A smaller concentration -- just over 20 percent -- reported having worked projects for financial services clients and those in those in the data management, I/T, life sciences and energy industries. Not all these are for huge operations: about a third of the survey’s respondents said they had clients that employed 100 or fewer workers.
Given the diversity of our region, all these consultants are important, and we are aggressively reaching out to them. We have a database of about 600 consultants, and we communicate with them regularly to keep them current on our region and the value it can bring their clients. Our outreach to consultants is face-to-face, too. We meet regularly with them to promote our region, fielding their questions and noting their comments. Research Triangle Regional Partnership also works with its allies and partners in organizing and co-hosting special events that many consultants can attend. Last summer’s U.S. Open tournaments in Pinehurst offered such opportunities, for instance.
The perspective of site consultants is so key to our region’s job-creation vision that we invited three of them to our Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) annual retreat earlier this fall. Joining us were Kent Holliday, a New York City-based principal with Cresa Consultant Services Group; Don Moss, a consultant and broker with Colliers International based in Charlotte, and Siobhan Fink, principal at Innovation Places in Connecticut. The insights we gained from these three major influencers were useful. Among the key themes:
- Our rapid population growth puts the Research Triangle Region in play for most site searches. For several of our communities, that growth is concentrated in the younger age groups – the demographic sweet spot companies look for when gauging talent assets.
- Consultants and their clients know about and respect the strong levels of educational attainment in our region’s workforce – sharply higher degree-holding rates than both the U.S. and North Carolina overall.
- The region’s reputation as a life sciences hub eclipses the other clusters that also are thriving here. Similarly, the presence of Research Triangle Park dominates how the world sees our region, overshadowing the diverse line-up of exceptional communities here.
- The U.S. Census Bureau’s move a decade ago to place Raleigh and Durham in separate MSAs hasn’t helped us. Consultants and the businesses they serve look for reliable government data that’s already aggregated for their target markets.
- The flexibility of customized workforce-training programs offered by North Carolina community colleges continue to give us an edge over many competitors. We were a forerunner in offering this free service to expanding and relocating businesses. While custom-tailored workforce development is not longer that unusual, our training is highly regarded for its quality and ease-of-use.
- Companies still seek properties that are “ready-to-go.” Communities should strive to prep sites and spec buildings to an extent that trims potential tenants’ timetable to occupancy and production.
Location advisers are key influencers in the site selection process and are, therefore, critical to our regional marketing strategy. Alongside our partners and allies, we’re making the Research Triangle Region’s case to them and their clients across industry clusters – important outreach from which all our communities can benefit.