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Picking a Shovel-Ready Location

If “time-to-market” is increasing your company’s sensitivity to site readiness issues, you will need to evaluate criteria used in site certification offerings.

Q We are preparing for a site selection decision. How do we evaluate a site’s readiness?

The Expert Says: Your company has recognized a need for a new facility and has decided to take on the site selection process. The new facility could be needed for a variety of reasons including a new product, a new market, and increased demand for customer services.

In order to capitalize on this new opportunity, you’ll want to move as quickly as possible and do not want to take long on deciding where to build to expedite your product to market. This “time to market” influences your company’s sensitivity to site readiness issues.

To address site readiness issues, many economic development entities and private developers have started implementing site readiness and site certification programs. These programs are designed to make property more “ready to go” and “shovel ready,” saving you, the prospect, time and money while reducing risk of unknown site development issues.

State economic development agencies, consultants, and other private firms are all in the site readiness/certification business nowadays, but guidelines on what is truly a “ready” site differ from firm to firm. One cannot assume that just because a site is “certified” or “ready” that all site readiness factors have been addressed— one certifying firm may be more stringent in their guidelines compared to another. The “certified” title may be a good marketing tool, but prospects must still look at the underlying readiness factors.

As site selection consultants, we look at three primary issues for evaluating a site’s readiness: ownership/
control, fully-served utilities, and developability. Ownership/control refers to whether or not a site is truly under control. Getting the site under control can be a tough task, especially when there are multiple owners. Having a site under control does not mean that the economic developer talked to a friend of the nephew of the owner of the site that mentioned it might be for sale. You will want to see a more concrete plan for ownership. A listing with broker is one obvious measure. An option for purchase is a great tool to show that the site is available even if the local economic development entity does not already own the land. If the site is not available, then there is no point in pursuing it any further.

The second vital element to a site’s readiness is whether or not it is capable of being fully served by all utilities. Being fully served includes: electric, natural gas, water, sewer, and telecommunications infrastructure. Although every project has varying utility requirements, it is important that the site have each utility available at the site or at least a formal, engineering-based plan (including funding estimates) to get the utilities to the site.

Developability readiness is another important element to the site selection process. Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), geotechnical assessments, wetlands delineations, endangered and protected species studies, and archeological and historical investigations are all key due diligence for assessing a site’s developability. These tools will show you, as a prospective buyer, any site preparation/construction risks you may be facing and allow you to assess mitigation and schedule impacts.

Documentation of site ownership/control, utilities placements and developability of the site provides you with a level of high confidence the site is “ready,” regardless if the site is labeled “certified” or not. True site readiness programs will reduce uncertainty, reduce site assessment costs, and reduce time lines for projects.

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