Podcast: A Conversation With Stephen Moret

Artificial intelligence won’t be making site selection decisions any time soon, according to Virginia Economic Development Partnership President/CEO Stephen Moret.

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Bedford County, Virginia

In a wide-ranging podcast interview with Business Facilities magazine, Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) President/CEO Stephen Moret shared his thoughts about long-term trends impacting the economic development community.

During the conversation with BF Editor in Chief Jack Rogers, Moret indicated that he doesn’t think that artificial intelligence (AI) or predictive analytics will be replacing the human factor in site selection decisions any time soon.

Moret artificial intelligence
Stephen Moret, President/CEO, Virginia Economic Development Partnership

“I definitely think we’re going to see a bigger role for predictive analytics and AI in site selection as time goes by, the question is how much and how fast,” Moret said. “I do think it’ll be quite some time before we see AI [assessing] things like quality of life and what it’s like to do business in an area. That’s still an area in which human skills will be at a premium for some time to come.”

Moret added, “as the tech advances and becomes more powerful and capable, we’re going to see an interesting tension in the years ahead between what we traditionally think of as human skills and what computers are actually able to do.”

Rogers asked the VEDP chief to weigh in on the ongoing debate about whether economic development agencies should focus primarily on job creation and capital investment, noting that leading analysts like Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program director Amy Liu have called the traditional ED model of branding, marketing and business attraction a “dinosaur.” Liu has said that EDOs should do more to assist businesses in their efforts to increase productivity.

“When you look at what we typically think of as site selection—where economic development professionals are working with existing companies that are considering expansions in their states or working with consultants to locate greenfield projects—even though that activity is less than it once was, it’s still an enormous amount of capital investment and new job creation,” Moret said.

“I don’t think Amy is saying do less of that, she’s saying we need a more balanced attack,” he said. “I agree there’s a need for a balanced attack that places more energy around cultivating additional trade and exports, working with startup firms, cultivating the innovation ecosystem, workforce development and human capital in general.”

Moret also discussed recent economic development successes in Virginia, including the state’s victory in securing the most coveted economic development prize in recent years—Amazon’s HQ2 project—for Arlington County, VA. The VEDP chief confirmed that the estimated 25,000 jobs generated by HQ2 will be new jobs and not relocations from Amazon’s Seattle HQ operations.

Moret told BF that Amazon’s top priority in selecting a VA location for HQ2 was “tech talent.”

“It was the scale and quality of tech talent and the tech talent pipeline: the availability of tech talent, the quality of tech talent and the new investments that we were making in tech talent,” he said. “That was by far the biggest factor.”

Click on the arrow below to hear BF’s entire podcast interview with Stephen Moret.

Business Facilities is a national publication that has been the leading location source for corporate site selectors and economic development professionals for more than 50 years.