Shovel-Ready Sites: Certified And Ready To Go

Precertified sites—A.K.A. shovel-ready sites—speed up the development cycle for projects by cutting the red tape and lining up key approvals in advance of the site selection process.

By the Business Facilities Staff
From the January/February 2021 Issue

In order to attract new development, locations have to be prepared for it and have sites that are ready to hit the ground running. States across the U.S. are implementing site certification programs that give available sites a shovel-ready designation—meaning that the site is primed and ready for economic development.

Whether you call these sites precertified or shovel-ready, the meaning is clear: shovel-ready generally refers to commercial and industrial sites that have all of the planning, zoning, surveys, title work, environmental studies, soil analysis and public infrastructure engineering completed prior to putting the site up for sale and are under the legal control of a community or other third party.

Certified shovel-ready sites are in growing demand among companies and site selection consultants, and they are an increasingly popular tool for communities to attract new business and industry. By reducing the time it takes a company to begin construction of a new facility, states and local communities are able to provide valuable savings to businesses as well as job opportunities for local residents.

“Shovel-ready certification is becoming popular nationally,” said John Rhodes, a national site-location consultant with Moran, Stahl & Boyer of Lakewood Ranch, FL. “The tool is successful because it increases the speed in which companies can start up operations after the site decision has been made, and limits their risk for the unknown.”

Here are some prime locations that have shovel-ready sites available for projects that need to hit the ground running.


Michigan is committed to providing support for companies investing and expanding their operations. The state’s economic development programs position companies for success as Michigan continues its efforts to grow a more equitable and resilient economy.

Michigan continues to receive national recognition that reinforces the strength of the state’s business climate, despite the worldwide economic turmoil of the past year. From achieving a record-high jump in Chief Executives’ national rankings due to its strong talent pool, to capturing eight top 10 spots in Business Facilities’ annual rankings report—and holding onto its first place ranking for automotive manufacturing strength—Michigan is making a name for itself as a smart choice for doing business.

shovel-ready sites
The site of the St. Johns Dairy was developed with funding from the Michigan Build Ready Sites program. (Photo: Michigan EDC)

Additional national recognition in this area is due to the state’s work around shovel-ready projects, as it was also named number seven overall by Area Development for the state’s Site Readiness Improvement programs, including the Michigan Build Ready Site program.

Over the past few years, Michigan leaders have developed a streamlined site selection process—a one-stop-shop where site consultants and buyers can sit down with a project team consisting of local economic development organizations (EDOs), utility partners and various state agencies, including the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), to negotiate. This streamlined approach allows the MEDC to more holistically address critical factors companies consider as part of the evaluation process, including housing and quality of life, state and local tax structure, transportation infrastructure and many more.

These efforts were showcased in November 2020, when 10 industrial sites submitted by communities and local partners around Michigan received $728,500 in site readiness grants. These grants boosted Michigan’s inventory of available properties ready to compete for business attraction projects. A key component of the program was the establishment of Vetted Site Standards, a voluntary resource that provides a critical roadmap to helping Michigan sites achieve consistent shovel-ready status. These standards include appropriate planning and zoning, boundary survey, proper soil and environmental conditions and more.

One municipality on the way to achieving shovel-ready status, thanks to the MEDC and local matching funds, is in the city of Ecorse. Through the Michigan Build Ready Sites Program, the city received a $75,000 grant to help them evaluate and address environmental contamination that has long been an impediment to productive redevelopment of the city-owned Mill Street site, a former steel mill. A 2019 Site Readiness grant supported the creation of basic information about the site, essential for marketing and understanding site needs and assets, and the 2020 grant will support ongoing site access improvements, with the goal providing a new, high-quality industrial development that creates a significant tax base and jobs for the city and region.

In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a site in Chippewa County received a grant through the program to support roof repairs at an existing industrial space, with two companies already being interested in locating there once the construction is complete. Meanwhile, along the state’s southern border in the city of Hillsdale, the Michigan Build Ready Sites Program is supporting the addition of broadband infrastructure at an existing industrial park, creating further opportunities for connectivity and enhancing the attractiveness of the surrounding area.

From broadband access to gas line installation, site readiness efforts are not just a part of a singular partnership with the MEDC; these community projects are also helping position the state to grow a more resilient economy that will have meaningful impact on business attraction efforts, help gain a competitive advantage when it comes to business attraction and expansion projects and ultimately bring good jobs for Michiganders. State support of site-ready efforts at the local level underscores Michigan’s continued commitment to working with its local partners and communities to foster business growth and developing its inventory of shovel-ready sites across the state. With the Michigan Build Ready Sites program in motion, local partners in conjunction with the MEDC are continuing to highlight the opportunities and strengths of doing business in the state.

After all, Michigan’s overall value proposition does not end with its shovel-ready efforts alone. Businesses are consistently choosing the state for its Pure Michigan quality of life, business-friendly environment and global supply chain assets. Located within 500 miles of nearly half the U.S. and Canadian population and commerce centers, choosing to locate in Michigan provides companies with unparalleled access to the global market.

Additionally, Michigan is building on its robust talent pipeline, with the highest concentration of engineers in the nation and a skilled trades workforce that ranks in the top ten nationally. At the same time, the state is investing in its workforce to ensure it can compete for future opportunities with tools like the Jobs Ready Michigan Program and the state’s flagship Michigan Business Development Program. Combined with a Pure Michigan message, these assets are positioning Michigan as national destination to live, work and play and helping secure competitive business deals—including the recently announced expansions by Clearcover and TechSmith Corporation.

With an abundance of shovel-ready sites, a highly skilled workforce and a growing list of national accolades recognizing its resilience and manufacturing might, Michigan remains an innovative home for pure opportunity for businesses of all sizes.


Pitt County, also known as the Greenville, NC MSA, is breaking new ground, in more ways than one, for expanding companies and new residents. Located 90 miles east of Raleigh on the way to the famous Outer Banks, Pitt County/Greenville is showing a noticeable uptick in population, industrial growth and community investments despite the challenges of 2020. The metro population is hovering under 200,000, but perhaps not for much longer.

Updater, a leader in relocation technology, analyzed a random sampling of 1.5 million household moves across the United States that took place from January through November 2020. The report listed Greenville, NC as the top city for in-bound population growth. “We know that Pitt County/Greenville is large enough to have the amenities and jobs that people are seeking, but small enough to provide a sense of community and, of course, lower cost of living,” said Kelly Andrews, executive director of the Pitt County Development Commission. “A lot of bang for the buck is certainly one reason for this trend.”

Pitt County is one of 10 communities named 2020 All America County by the National Civic League. The designation recognizes communities that leverage civic engagement, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address critical local issues and create stronger community connections. “Receiving the designation of All-America County demonstrates Pitt County’s collaborative approach to addressing community needs,” said County Manager Scott Elliott. Identified in Pitt County’s mission is an intentional commitment to engage all residents, determine their needs and implement solutions.

East Carolina University
East Carolina University recently opened a new Student Center. (Photo: ECU University Communications)

Pitt County/Greenville also boasts several amenities that are not often found in smaller metro areas. East Carolina University (ECU) had the 4th largest enrollment of all universities in North Carolina in 2020 with nearly 29,000 students. ECU is the only university in the state with a medical school, school of dental medicine and a college of engineering at the same institution.

ECU’s Brody School of Medicine works in partnership with Vidant Health, a system of care for eastern North Carolina that includes 1,708 beds across 9 hospitals including the flagship hospital in Greenville. Vidant, serving over 1.4 million residents in 29 counties, also includes a Children’s Hospital, Heart Institute, and Cancer Center, all constructed over the past decade in Greenville, NC.

As the area’s life sciences and healthcare clusters continue to grow, ECU is keeping pace with supporting curriculum and programs. The university is well past the halfway point on construction of a $90 million Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building, expected to open in August 2021. The building will house several departments and provide a dynamic environment where industry and community partners can engage with faculty and students to develop innovative solutions, collaborate on product commercialization and strengthen strategic partnerships. “ECU is bringing to life a transformational project in the heart of Uptown Greenville,” said Ron Mitchelson, Interim Chancellor.

Despite the challenges of 2020, there has been diverse industrial growth adding jobs and investment in Pitt County/Greenville.

  • Victra, the largest retail partner for Verizon Wireless, has chosen Greenville, NC for their newest telesales center and plans to add 200 jobs.
  • Utah-based Focus Services LLC, a global innovator in customer contact solutions, has chosen a Greenville, NC facility and is planning to employ 550.
  • World Cat, a brand of HC Composites purchased a 230,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility in Greenville, NC to build outboard power catamarans. The company plans to add 60 jobs and invest $8.9 million.
  • Metrics Contract Services, a division of Mayne Pharma and a full-service global contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO), has begun construction on the $10 million expansion of its novel oral solid dosage manufacturing facility expansion in Greenville, NC.
  • Grover Gaming, a designer and developer of software, game content and gaming systems, announced 100 new jobs at its Greenville, NC headquarters in February 2020, nearly doubling their headcount. In December, 2020, Grover announced another 200 jobs and a $12.5 million expansion.

In October, Elliott Sidewalk Communities, ECU’s development partner, unveiled an eight-year master plan called Intersect East. The plan includes the development and repurposing of three vacant historic structures and construction of 11 new buildings in Greenville’s former warehouse district with a construction value of more than $325 million.

Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world leader in serving science, recently announced an expansion investment of approximately $500 million investment at its Greenville, NC campus. The expansion will increase drug product development and commercial manufacturing of critical medicines, therapies and vaccines. The project is expected to create more than 500 jobs over the next 24 months.

Thermo Fisher
A rendering of the Thermo Fisher expansion (Photo: Thermo Fisher Scientific)

With all the activity in the area, local economic development partners are hard at work to provide additional shovel-ready sites for development. In July 2019, Pitt County purchased 130 acres of property in the heart of Greenville’s industrial corridor. The site was selected for its visibility on the Highway 264 Bypass leading to Future Interstate I-587 and proximity to high-capacity utilities infrastructure. The site is pending designation as an NC Commerce Certified Site and an ElectriCities Smart Site. Each program verifies the shovel-readiness of NC sites, including the proximity to high-capacity utilities infrastructure.

Indigreen, an existing corporate park with multiple lots and a county-built shell building, is also shovel-ready. In addition, a new electric substation is under construction at one corner of the park to enhance the already robust capacity. With a newly resurfaced interior roadway and two access points leading to US 264 Bypass, the 363-acre park has approximately 160 acres for sale. The park is an NC Commerce Certified Site as well as an ElectriCities Smart Site and is owned by the Greenville ENC Alliance, a new public-private economic development group that supports industrial recruitment efforts.

“Breaking new ground, both in actual dirt and in our strategic collaborations is what we’re about,” said Andrews. “Our location offers affordability, yet we also have tremendous assets that you may not expect in a smaller metro area. Add to that the speed at which we can access all of our partners and get things done, and you have a winning combination.”


Nash County is a thriving community that is uniquely located within the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina and Interstate-95. Nash County offers a diverse workforce, low cost of doing business and a wonderful place to call home for growing families and businesses. With corporate giants like Pfizer, Cummins and Honeywell Aerospace already having established facilities in the Nash County and with an abundant workforce, county leaders are sending a signal to other companies that Nash County is open and ready for business.

The emergence of the coronavirus sped up the need to increase cold storage and shipping capabilities, according to national site location consultants, which has well-positioned Nash County to serve these needs thanks to the county’s location to the Research Triangle and proximity to all major markets along the I-95 corridor.

shovel-ready sites
The 142-acre, county owned I-95 NC Distribution Site in Nash County comes with all utilities and recently was certified as a Duke Energy Site Readiness property. (Photo: Nash County)

Nash County has been identified as an ideal location to accommodate the growth of e-commerce, cold storage and logistics companies, especially ones in the life science and food-beverage industries. This speaks strongly to the strength of the market and the opportunity for Nash County to expand and grow in 2021.

Located on the I-95 corridor and U.S. Highway 264 and 64 (future I-87), the county has three shovel ready industrial sites to meet a company’s needs:

Middlesex Corporate Centre. Located immediately on U.S. Highway 264 in the western end of Nash County, just 25 minutes from Downtown Raleigh and 45 minutes from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the Middlesex Corporate Centre is perfectly located between the Research Triangle and I-95. This county-owned park is not only the newest in the county, but also full of potential for future tenants seeking a close proximity to the Research Triangle.

“It’s zoned for light industry, which means it could be attractive for advanced manufacturing pharmaceuticals, logistics, distribution and back office uses,” said Andy Hagy, director of economic development at Nash County. “Geographically and logistically, it’s the ideal location.”

The county recently completed the road access and infrastructure throughout the entire park, and its 320 acres also include an expandable shell building. “We have already constructed a 62,500-square-foot shell building that is expandable to 100,000 square feet. By mid-year, we hope to have someone lined up for the shell building, and would then immediately begin our 7th shell building,” said Robbie Davis, chairman of the Nash County Board of Commissioners. “We’ve had a lot of success at our other industrial parks, and we feel this will be a great site for an industry that needs access to RDU and the Research Triangle.”

I-95 NC Distribution Site. The 142-acre county-owned I-95 NC Distribution Site is adjacent to I-95 and comes with all utilities. The property recently completed a rigorous site evaluation certification program through Duke Energy. The property was evaluated by a national site location consultant, Global Location Strategies, and certified as a Duke Energy Site Readiness property.

“The site is an excellent location for distribution, cold storage and logistics located immediately on I-95. With ample room to expand and a convenient location, it’s the perfect site for navigating the entire East Coast I-95 corridor and sea ports,” said Hagy.

The county has conceptual site plans for building footprints of 400,000 square feet that expands to 800,000 square feet, as well as one for a one-million-square-foot building.

The site is within two hours of two sea ports; located five minutes from the 7,000-foot regional airport, which is located in Nash County; and 15 minutes from the new CSX Carolina Connector intermodal rail facility,” said Hagy. “It’s all interstate connected, so it’s really just a perfect distribution location.”

Whitaker Business and Industry Center. The Whitaker business park is home to a cluster of businesses—largely those in the food processing industry, including The Cheesecake Factory, Poppies International (Belgium) and Nutkao (Italy) and there are still county-owned lots available. For businesses looking to build on a site that already boasts an established business community, Whitaker is the ideal option.

The 38-acre Whitaker B&I Center South Tract is designed for 100,000 to 500,000 square feet building footprints. “WBIC’s Phase II is designed for 45,000-square-foot and 85,000-square-foot building footprints,” said Hagy.

The WBIC is minutes off I-95 and five minutes from the new CSX Carolina Connector Intermodal rail facility, making it convenient for cold storage and distribution. The terminal is positioned to reach more than five million consumers within a 120-radius and will feature three wide-span, zero emission electric cranes with lift capacity of 110,000 containers per year.

While Whitaker is more dominated by the food industry, it is also home to a major McLane distribution center, one of the largest grocery supply chain service companies in the United States.

With each shovel ready site’s potential, both Davis and Hagy are signaling Nash County is a business-friendly location that offers a low cost of doing business, and a quality of life hard to beat. “Maybe the best way to sum everything up is that Nash County is Open for Business,” said Hagy.

Learn more about shovel-ready sites and economic development, corporate relocation, corporate expansion and site selection.