By Jack Rogers
From the May/June 2013 issue

On May 19-21, representatives from choice locations across North America met with site selection professionals seeking a home for top projects at Business Facilities’ 9th annual LiveXchange event at the Westin Stonebriar in Frisco, TX.

Like last year’s event, held in Bonita Springs, FL, ominous weather threatened but did not disrupt the proceedings. Last fall, it was Hurricane Sandy churning up the East Coast; this spring there were a series of dangerous tornadoes in the vicinity, including a twister that caused six fatalities less than 20 miles from the Frisco venue two days before the event kicked off.

Disasters—natural and manmade—and how to deal with them also were a common theme in several of our LiveXchange seminars. In his keynote, former regional FEMA director John Copenhaver said communities can no longer assume that the government always will save the day after a major natural disaster.

“For several years now, we have been in a time of diminishing national and local resources,” Copenhaver said. He stressed the need for self-reliance when preparing to meet today’s looming disasters.

“Approaching threats may require immediate action, and ‘wait until help arrives’ could do more harm than good,” he said.

Copenhaver urged the LiveX attendees to conduct an extensive risk analysis of candidate sites for new facilities or relocations. He suggested they seek out established businesses in an area they are considering as a facility location and question them about the adequacy of disaster response resources.

“You need to know the site history. For example, has the topography changed? If open ground has been paved over for large parking lots, an area that did not flood 30 years ago may now be flood prone,” he said.

A site should be evaluated in terms of how critical infrastructure, including power, water and waste disposal could be impacted by a major disaster. Special considerations, including the storage of toxic chemicals, should be investigated.

Copenhaver encouraged site selectors to seek out crisis management experts and contingency planners to assist them in risk assessment.

In his seminar entitled Adapting Site Selection to Meet the New Demographics, Mark Lautman, principal of Lautman Economic Architecture, delivered a stark warning:

“The whole economic development game is running out of places to add value. If you look at it honestly, our profession is in the process of going out of business.”

According to Lautman, the emerging demographics have created a paradigm that will force communities into a fierce competition for the same small pool of skilled workers.

“In the past, employers had all the power in the hiring relationship. Now (prospective) employees have all the power. When the Boomers entered the job market, there were 10 of us applying for every open position. Now, 10 companies will be chasing after the same young professional,” he said.

This seismic shift “will change the calculus for site selection and economic development,” Lautman said. “It will change the way businesses operate and chart their futures.”

The most important change will be the elevation of quality of life as a primary factor in site selection decisions, he said. “Employers must be really careful about where they locate their facilities. They have to make sure where they locate is where the employees want to live,” Lautman said. “What is the DNA that makes those places attractive to (young professionals)? That’s the new game—talent attraction.”

Business Facilities LiveXchange is an invitation-only event for corporate executives responsible for choosing a new location for their companies’ next facility. Delegates meet with senior economic developers from across North America; attend seminars, workshops and think tanks led by experts in the field of relocation and expansion; and network with other corporate executives faced with the same corporate growth challenges. For more information about how to participate in LiveXchange, visit this link.