Advanced Manufacturing Sites

Manufacturers are seeking cutting-edge locations for their state-of-the-art production lines and processes.

By Tom Gresham
From the September/October 2022 Issue

No advanced manufacturer is the same, and a potential new site that may be ideal for one company could be disastrous for another. Still, certain key criteria are commonly used across the board for advanced manufacturing companies who are considering new locations for their operations, whether as part of expansion or relocation efforts.

A critical part of the site selection process for advanced manufacturers is determining how to prioritize the criteria that are most important to them and to their needs. The labor pool, the regulatory and tax climate, supply chain logistics, economic incentives, educational and training resources, quality of life, economic partners, competitors, and the overall business environment are among the factors that have varying levels of importance to advanced manufacturers.

Advanced Manufacturing Sites
Robotic automation equipment is a hallmark for many manufacturing plants today. (Photo: Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

No matter the company, Missy Hughes, Secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), said seeing the big picture is essential because a major weakness in one important area can undermine a site’s strengths.

“For a company to make a really good decision, it needs to have a comprehensive view of all these different factors,” Hughes said.

Terri Fitzpatrick, Executive Vice President, Chief Real Estate and Global Attraction Officer for Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), asserts, “When comparing sites, all factors must be considered in connection to one another.”

Here is a look at criteria that often are in the foreground of advanced manufacturers’ site selection decisions.

The Demand For Workers

In today’s highly competitive labor climate, no criteria is valued more by advanced manufacturers than a highly trained, skilled workforce.

“With everyone I’ve seen in advanced manufacturing, whether they’re in the automotive industry, the healthcare industry, or the aerospace industry—the availability and quality of the workforce is the number one thing they are looking for,” said David Hooks, Executive Director of the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority in Alabama.

Amy Madison, Executive Director of the Pflugerville Community Development Corporation in Texas, agreed that the ongoing labor shortfall has raised the importance of workforce availability.

“That’s become the conversation starter—that’s the first thing that we talk about now,” Madison said. “[Companies are] looking at, ‘Are we going to be able to grow and sustain our growth in this location with the available workforce?’”

Part of the challenge of evaluating a region’s workforce is that companies are not just considering the general availability of workers but also the quality of the workforce for their specific purposes.

“In advanced manufacturing—whether in the automotive industry, the healthcare industry, or the aerospace industry—the availability and quality of the workforce is the number one thing they’re looking for.”

— David Hooks, Executive Director Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority

“They are looking for well-trained and skilled workers that can immediately step in and operate the machinery specific to their company’s defined processes,” Hooks said.

In addition to manufacturing workers, advanced manufacturers need top-notch engineers, supply chain professionals, customer service staff and others, said Tom Pettit, COO of Generac Power Systems, which is based in Wisconsin.

Hooks said areas that already boast the presence of several other advanced manufacturers can prove attractive to companies.