Shovel-Ready Sites: Ready To Hit The Ground Running

Precertified sites—also known as 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 BF Staff
From the July/August 2019 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 leading national site-location consultant with Moran, Stahl & Boyer of Lakewood Ranch, FL who worked with the State of Minnesota on its Shovel Ready Program. “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.”

The following certification programs are helping to give several states a competitive edge by making locations more attractive to companies and site-selection consultants looking for locations for business startups, expansions or relocations.


Businesses ready to expand need look no further than the center of America’s heartland. With more than 20 development-ready locations and additional sites working toward designation, companies can easily find the right option for their needs on an accelerated timeline thanks to Iowa’s Certified Site Program, first introduced by the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) in 2012.

Unlike some states that certify shovel-ready sites by their own criteria (which can vary widely from state to state), Iowa’s certification program uses nationally recognized standards and an independent, third-party site selection firm (Quest Site Solutions) as the certifying agent.

Iowa’s Certified Site Program takes into account national site location standards, benefits provided by Iowa’s natural resources and the needs of key business sectors, including advanced manufacturing, finance and insurance and the biosciences. To achieve certification, sites go through a rigorous review process. Issues uncovered as a result of this review must be mitigated within a designated timeline. The outcome? A relatively risk-free site, which helps to accelerate the development schedule for today’s fast-paced business environment.

While the number of certified sites in Iowa is growing, the state emphasizes that having the most certified sites is not the goal. “We’re using the most robust certification program in the country,” said Amy Kuhlers, Manager, IEDA’s Certified Site Program. “Our focus on quality, not quantity, drives the program’s success.”

As the business world continually evolves, the ability to scale up quickly can be a game-changer for long-term profitability. Iowa’s certified sites can provide large square footage options for fast-tracked projects and offer interested developers multiple categories to fit their needs, including green business parks, industrial sites and mega sites (1,000 acres or more).

“Companies exploring expansions or new operations often do not have the luxury of dedicating substantial amounts of time to the site location process,” said Debi Durham, Director, Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority. “That’s why this program makes Iowa a great option—having a site where all the development questions have been asked and answered demonstrates the community is open for business and prepared to welcome new investment.”

Though Iowa’s Certified Site Program sets the state apart from alternatives destinations, additional factors make Iowa an attractive option for businesses seeking expansion opportunities.

Iowa’s costs for equipment rental, construction, payroll, workers’ compensation and utilities are all below the national average. The Certified Sites Program also works in concert with Iowa’s top-ranked infrastructure, ample resources and business-friendly regulatory climate. And while low costs and operational savings help the potential for profitability, the certification program has been adapted to place sustainability considerations at the forefront of planning and implementation.

For a comprehensive list of available sites and more information about the program, visit


Located in the middle of everywhere, Lubbock is home to nearly 300,000 people and is easily accessible by Interstate-27, which connects to Interstate-10 and Interstate-20, as well as by plane with the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport.

shovel-ready sites
Lubbock Business Park (Photo: Visit Lubbock)

But the city’s convenient location isn’t the only thing that has caught the attention of national businesses—it’s also their reputation as being a hub for fast-growing industries. Known for its roots in agriculture, education and healthcare, Lubbock’s economy is often perceived as a three-legged stool. These three legs provide the essential foundation for its economy. Yet, what once was three primary legs, is now closer to seven with the growth of Lubbock’s technology, manufacturing, finance and professional services, and tourism industries.

With more than 10,000 graduates every year, Lubbock’s businesses benefit from a new generation of a workforce prepared to generate solutions and address real-world issues with fresh ideas. This solution-driven mentality positions these graduates to be a true asset in the local technology sector, which encompasses programming, data services and more.

Among those companies, an L.A.-based technology firm, Hoverstate, has brought new operations to downtown Lubbock, adding 50 positions in computer programming to the market. Within the sector, other local companies offer solutions for practical issues; for example, Truno is a leader in retail technology solutions for grocery stores, and Tyler Technologies produces software for more than 15,000 state and local governments.

Another industry making significant strides is manufacturing. Lubbock is home to numerous pump manufacturers that build pumps for agricultural, oil and gas, and municipal needs. Whether it is food, fiber or machinery, the manufacturing industry continues to expand production.

As the world’s largest analog/mixed-signal foundry group manufacturing silicon wafers for mixed-signal integrated circuits, X-FAB Texas is home to the world’s first six-inch silicon carbide (SiC) foundry. The facility manufactures SiC power devices that are used in improving the efficiency of electrified vehicles, data centers, the generation of renewable energy and industrial applications.

Naturally, food manufacturing is a prominent aspect of the industry with wine grapes, corn, peanuts, sunflowers and more grown in the region. Companies such as Shearer’s Foods, Inc. produce and distribute snack food throughout the country, and Sun Gold Foods, Inc. roasts and salts sunflower seeds and other nuts. It’s often noted that food manufacturing thrives in Lubbock because the workforce knows the ins and outs of food production.

The finance industry continues to see high returns in Lubbock with a diverse portfolio in commercial and investment banking. With substantial economic growth, the industry added 17 percent more jobs in the last five years. Now, as the second-fastest growing industry, 8,200 people are employed in the financial sector.

As the epicenter for art, wine and music in West Texas, more than six million visitors travel to Lubbock and spend a combined $840 million annually. Not only does the “Hub City” see leisure travelers, but business travelers, conference attendees and athletes visit Lubbock for meetings and tournaments.

In addition to these established industries of Lubbock, the city is looking ahead and making provisions for new economic opportunities. To address the city’s projected growth, the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance partnered with Bandera Ventures, a real estate developer from Dallas, to build a hi-tech speculative distribution building with 161,555 square feet of space in the Lubbock Business Park.

The building, known as the Lubbock Logistics Center, will have a clear height of 32 feet, 56 trailer parking positions and be cross-dock configured.

Due to the low industrial real estate vacancy and Lubbock’s role as a regional hub, Bandera Ventures chose to build the facility in the “Hub City.” The facility is on schedule to be completed by early fall of 2019.

“My partners and I are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with LEDA on this exciting development project benefiting the citizens of Lubbock,” said Pryor Blackwell, partner at Bandera Ventures. “I fell in love with Lubbock 40 years ago as a freshman at Texas Tech, and I’ve loved the city, Texas Tech and the people of West Texas ever since.”

With its central location, diverse industries, highly skilled workforce and opportunities for expansion, Lubbock is poised to remain on a consistent upward trend for years to come.


Just a short drive from Houston in sprawling Harris County, Texas, the City of Tomball is a fast-growing, business-friendly city. Equipped with a readily available workforce and shovel-ready land, Tomball has proven to be the right match for growing businesses and families alike.

shovel-ready sites
SUEZ Water and Technology Solutions opened its analytical testing lab in the Tomball Business and Technology Park in 2018. (Photo: Tomball)

The master-planned and deed-restricted Tomball Business and Technology Park is the centerpiece for much of the recent development. A project of the Tomball Economic Development Corporation, the 99.5-acre park is fully served with all utilities, provides off-site detention and is easily accessible to major highways and thoroughfares. Mirroring the city in which it lies, the park has shown a propensity to draw a diverse group of tenants since its opening in 2015.

Canadian-based Packers Plus was the first company to purchase property in the Tomball Business and Technology Park, acquiring over 17 acres. The oil and gas services company built a 50,000-square-foot research and development facility in 2016 and plans to add a manufacturing facility and corporate office building on-site in the future.

French-based SUEZ Water and Technologies Solutions followed Packers Plus and constructed a state-of-the-art laboratory in the park. The SUEZ facility, which opened in October 2018, is one of the world’s largest research and development analytical testing labs. The 45,000-square-foot facility is home to 80 employees, including over 50 highly trained engineers, chemists and technicians.

The Tomball EDC recently announced a myriad of new projects coming soon to the Tomball Business and Technology Park. Hoelscher Weatherstrip Manufacturing is moving dirt on 16.8 acres for a 193,000-square-foot office/warehouse facility. Hoelscher, currently headquartered in Houston, plans to bring 120 employees to Tomball and projects growth after the move.

Nickson Industrial Warehouses is building three Class A tilt-wall buildings in the park, adding unique inventory to Tomball. Nickson, a speculative project developer, is constructing the project on nine acres, across two tracts of land.

All with 28-foot clear heights, the inventory will include two 25,200-square-foot and one 30,600-square-foot single-tenant office/warehouse buildings.

Finally, Dkota Investments, Inc., a national build-to-suit development company, is constructing a distribution center for Bimbo Bakeries USA in the Tomball Business and Technology Park. When completed late in 2019, the 20,000-square-foot facility on four acres will create 14 new full-time jobs operating two eight-hour shifts.

The rapid success of the park is due much in part to the completion of significant transportation projects that have made Tomball more accessible than ever. The recently completed State Highway 99 (The Grand Parkway) and the recently expanded State Highway 249 (The Tomball Parkway) are direct connectors for Tomball. Tomball is also just minutes from Interstate 45 and Beltway 8. These major thoroughfares provide instant access to the Tomball Business and Technology Park and Tomball’s many amenities, while reducing congestion and travel time to and from the city. Companies in Tomball also find the many nearby highways important when serving markets throughout Texas and the region.

Tomball’s road improvement projects have made it easier to reach other critical infrastructure. One of the country’s busiest airports, George Bush Intercontinental, is less than 30 minutes from Tomball, allowing companies the ability to access nearly every global destination. Regional airport, David Wayne Hooks Memorial, is minutes from Tomball. Hooks Airport is a popular destination for chartered flights and fixed-based operator (FBO) services.

Tomball also is within an hour of the Port of Houston and the Houston Ship Channel, presenting key access to a global trade hub. Product can also arrive to Tomball by way of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway, which services many foreign and domestic markets.

As business growth continues on an upward trend, so too does residential growth. With new infrastructure in place and strong population growth, residential developers are heavily investing in the Tomball community. Brand new master-planned communities already are drawing new residents to Tomball with over 5,200 new single-family homes under construction in the Tomball area.

Growth has been met with preparation by local leadership and citizens. To meet present and future needs of the Tomball Independent School District (Tomball ISD), voters approved a $275 million bond referendum in 2017. The bond will be used to construct new schools, renovate facilities at existing campuses and add improved technology in the highly regarded Tomball ISD.

Along with Tomball ISD, the growing business community has a great partner in Lone Star College-Tomball (LSC-Tomball) to address increasing workforce needs. LSC-Tomball is part of the Lone Star College system; the second largest community college system in Texas. LSC-Tomball educates thousands of students at three campuses, with degrees and certificates that directly translate into the labor force.

Tomball’s collective strength is at an all-time high. The city finds itself in a prosperous place, on the brink of a boon. Local leadership is determined to keep Tomball thriving, placing a priority on community, economic partnerships and connectivity. With an outstanding mix of transportation, business, education and lifestyle, there has never been a better time to locate in Tomball. Discover more at


Eatonton and Putnam County, GA boast a very diverse economic mix ranging from manufacturing to agriculture to technology to film. Advantages include a central location, low operating costs, tax incentives and a relaxed lifestyle.

shovel-ready sites
Manufacturers located in the South Eatonton-Putnam County Industrial Park (pictured) include Bluestem Brands’ eCommerce fulfillment center, Legacy Housing, Cosmo Cabinets, Lone Star Wheel Components and Manley Metalworks. (Photo: Putnam Development Authority)

Situated in the center of Georgia between Atlanta, Augusta, Athens and Macon, Putnam County is located 10 minutes south of Interstate 20, 78 miles southeast of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (the busiest airport in the world) and 185 miles northwest of the Port of Savannah (the 4th largest sea port in the United States).

Putnam County offers new and expanding businesses a healthy, economic landscape supported by a business-friendly environment. Existing Industry in Putnam County is currently investing significantly in their facilities:

  • BlueStem Brands (fulfillment center) completed a $1.2 million facility improvement project in 2018.
  • Aalto Scientific (bio-tech company) completed a $700,000 facility expansion in 2018 and has begun an additional $900,000 expansion.
  • Interfor (sawmill) will begin a $90 million Equipment Upgrade & Mill Modernization project in Fall of 2019.
  • Lake Oconee Tree Farm & Nursery invested $1,489,840 in a 200 acre expansion project in 2018.
  • Cosmo Cabinets (new kitchen cabinet manufacturer) completed a $400,000 manufacturing equipment installation.
  • Universal Forest Products has started a $600,000 new equipment project.
  • Stair South built an additional $450,000 building in 2018.

Putnam County draws from a labor pool of over 67,775 employees from a six-county area. Putnam County has a lower cost of doing business due to a cost of living index of 93.1 which is 6.9 percent lower than the national average. County average wages were $671/week in 2018, well below the state average.

Local incentives include available city and county property tax abatement, 100 percent Freeport Exemption and job credits of $3,500/job for 5 years.

The Putnam County Charter School System (PCCSS) is host to an award-winning College and Career Academy. In 2019 Putnam County High School had a 92 percent graduation rate, which is higher than the state and national average.

Gatewood Schools is an award-winning Christian, independent, non-profit, college-preparatory school that provides an educational experience that prepares students for postsecondary education and lasting success.

Central Georgia Technical College (CGTC) provides workforce development at the Eatonton campus, as well as at the Putnam County High School campus. CGTC provides quality academic and technical education, along with customized business and industry training, continuing education and adult education services.

Georgia College & State University and Georgia Military College are only a short 21-mile drive to Milledgeville. Other colleges and universities within a 50-mile radius of Eatonton include the University of Georgia, Mercer University, Wesleyan College and Middle Georgia State University.

As the area’s best 100-percent digital, non-profit, healthcare provider, Putnam General Hospital has served the Eatonton and surrounding lake areas with over 40 years of excellent healthcare. Putnam General Hospital, a Navicent Health Partner, provides general medical and surgical care for inpatient, outpatient and emergency room patients. Sixteen additional hospitals are located within a 50-mile radius of Eatonton.

Putnam County is a lively, active community, which hosts many annual events and festivals. History, culture, arts, shopping and recreational opportunities abound. Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair offer almost 800 miles of shoreline and many opportunities for swimming, boating, water skiing and fishing. Enjoy world-class golf at Reynolds Plantation, The Ritz Carlton, Cuscowilla Resort or Uncle Remus Golf Course.

Contact about locating your business in Eatonton-Putnam County, Georgia.


According to many businesses, the biggest obstacles encountered in the process of relocation or expansion are finding available land, employees and achieving financial stability. The Odessa Development Corporation (ODC) has resources at their disposal that can help make a business relocation to, or expansion in, Odessa, TX a smooth process all around. These resources include an extensive property database and possible economic development sales tax incentives.

Space or property for relocation or expansion can be difficult to find. The ODC has precise resources to make that step in the process easier. This database includes properties in the city of Odessa, but also within Ector County, and could help a prospective business find a property for their relocation or expansion that they were not aware was available. To access the ODC’s property database, simply visit or contact anyone in the Economic Development Department at the Odessa Chamber of Commerce.

Odessa has the resources to train its citizens for careers in medicine, manufacturing, agriculture and more. The city of Odessa holds multiple vocational training centers and an endlessly open job market, which makes its workforce an invariable commodity in the midst of a varying economy. Businesses who relocate to Odessa face significantly fewer hiring challenges than they might in other cities.

Odessa is strengthened by one of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States at 2.9 percent, as well as some of the highest wages in the country for skilled workers. While population and community growth moves upward, unemployment numbers are slowly shrinking in Odessa. The community experiences frequent relocation of new businesses, world class facilities and vocational training programs in association with those businesses.

The Odessa community is the Odessa Development Corporation’s biggest aid in achieving its goal of creating an expanded and thriving economy.

In 1989, Texas enacted an economic development sales tax. With this revenue, and with city council approval, economic development corporations like the ODC invest in the future of Odessa. ODC offers incentives to businesses based on the number of new jobs created, annual payroll and the amount of capital investment, among other requirements.

Odessa is unique. The city offers a quintuple Freeport Exemption from all taxing entities on goods in transit. Just one more reason that Odessa is the right place for your business. This business incentive is designed to exempt some or all of a company’s inventory from property taxes. Businesses involved in the export of tangible property such as goods, wares and merchandise may be eligible for the Freeport Exemption. For your business to be eligible, all property must be assembled, stored, manufactured or fabricated locally and then exported out of the state within 175 days. Other available incentives include infrastructure improvement grants, property tax incentives, vocational training and recruiting and screening of employees.

Lucrative financial incentives, site selection, logistics, a qualified workforce, easy access to foreign markets, low cost-of-living and its greatest resource, the people, make Odessa an increasingly attractive place to do business.

When a business is looking to move to a new location, there are a number of factors to consider for employees and their families. The ODC can help you make Odessa home. The staff can put you in touch with the local school district, area community colleges and universities, workforce solutions centers, land developers and residential real estate professionals to make the transition as easy as possible.

The best development corporations in Texas use an annual action plan. The ODC uses a similar plan of action that helps them proactively recruit businesses and projects that keep Odessa in the ranks of the most economically sound communities in Texas. If you’re looking to expand your business or need a new location, contact the Economic Development Department at (432) 333-7880.


When considering Shovel-Ready site locations, Wisconsin’s Madison Region stands out from the crowd with its industrial diversity, transportation infrastructure and talent pipeline. “Our eight counties have a great blend of agriculture, manufacturing, bioscience and information technology,” said Madison Region Economic Development Partnership (MadREP) President Paul Jadin. “The legacy industries are complemented by the newer companies, most of which can be traced back to our higher education and the robust collaboration that exists among K-12, tech, universities and colleges.”

Named the most industrially diverse MSA in the country by Economic Modeling Services, Inc. (EMSI) last year, the Region has a well-developed and diverse transportation network for moving products and people. Its rich history in the dairy industry has provided fantastic roads throughout their eight counties, while air, rail and the interstate highway system connect the Region with major Midwestern and national markets. Several bus lines provide daily service to Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis.

The Madison Region is building tomorrow’s workforce by launching academic career plan initiatives, providing career exposure and mentorship opportunities, and growing work-based learning programs to deliver a workforce that is prepared.

“This is an exciting time to be a part of a community that recognizes the urgency and impact of collaboration between the Region’s economic and workforce development,” said Tracy Pierner, Blackhawk Technical College President. “We are a committed partner with the economic and workforce development teams, K-12 districts and businesses to ensure that our local workforce remains strong and the talent pipeline grows.”

Especially exceptional in the Madison Region is how government and businesses work collaboratively to flourish. In addition to the support of local governments and MadREP, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the state’s leading economic development agency, plays a vital role in finding ways to attract and retain businesses through a variety of incentive programs.

“WEDC’s philosophy is to work with local communities to facilitate their economic development objectives,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Mark R. Hogan. “We rely on MadREP and the state’s other regional economic development organizations to identify shovel-ready locations for businesses that want to locate or expand in Wisconsin. With the region’s strong infrastructure, diverse economy and highly educated workforce, MadREP and its community partners have a stellar record of helping companies find exactly the right place for their business to grow.”

Fitchburg, a city in the Madison Region, is a great example of how those good relationships attract thriving corporate HQ to its Shovel-Ready locations. PLACON is a resident and leading North American designer/manufacturer of custom and stock thin gauge thermoformed plastic clamshells and trays.

“We have enjoyed calling Fitchburg, Wisconsin home of our company headquarters since 1966,” said CEO Dan Mohs. “Our facility and the city have grown throughout the years making it a better place for the workforce and people living in the community. Being a family owned company, we value the sense of community and family here at PLACON and believe this is instilled within the Fitchburg community. It has been a true staple of why we have continued to grow and flourish here in Fitchburg. Our employees have a variety of shopping, restaurants and outdoor activities to enjoy and visit during the work week or on weekends that make Fitchburg a great place to work and live.”

Promega Corporation, a leader in providing innovative solutions and technical support to the life sciences industry, plans to construct a new research and development facility at their existing campus in Fitchburg.

“There’s been a partnership between Promega and Fitchburg that goes back to the founding of both the company and the city,” said Chuck York, Vice President of Manufacturing Operations at Promega. “We’ve supported one another in our phases of growth. The City of Fitchburg has been a valuable ally.”

Another company proud to call Fitchburg home is CAMECA Instruments, a world leading supplier of microanalytical and metrology instrumentation who credits their site selection as vital to their business.

“Our Dane County location has been integral to our success,” said Jesse Olson, AMETEK Materials Analysis Division Vice President & CAMECA Business Unit Manager. “Support from the city and state, as well as a deep pool of local talent, makes Fitchburg a world-leading high-tech center for scientific instrumentation development and manufacturing. Our state-of-the-art facility will support many years of continued growth.”

If you’re already sold on the Madison Region for your next site selection endeavor, you have a variety of options (including eight WEDC Certified sites and four Gold Shovel sites). The Region is actively rehabilitating former industrial properties like OM Station (previously an Oscar Mayer site) in the City of Madison while boasting greenfield space and spec buildings to suit a variety of needs.

Also located in Dane County is North Mendota Energy and Technology Park. A WEDC Certified Site, this Shovel-Ready 57-acre park boasts robust utilities at the lot line with an adjacent Electric substation. Alliant Energy’s Beaver Dam Commerce Park (located in Dodge County) is one of the largest available business properties in Wisconsin with 520 contiguous acres. “The site is centrally located near major transportation hubs and delivers a strong business climate and quality workforce to help businesses succeed,” according to David de Leon, President of Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin energy company.

The Region also features a new spec building in Dane County and is currently breaking ground on another in Rock County. Built near the Dane County Regional Airport, the new Center for Industry & Commerce is ideal for manufacturing, assembly, warehouse distribution and research & development. Coming online in Fall 2019 is Zilber Industrial I in Janesville, an institutional-quality industrial building accommodating manufacturing and distribution users.