Critical Site Selection Components – Part I: Workforce & Quality of Place

Critical Site Selection Components – Part I: Workforce & Quality of Place

by Dennis Burnside

Marietta, Ohio – Photo Credit: Deluxe.com

As site selectors and economic development consultants, Juniper Solutions’ corporate clients and economic development practitioners often ask what the key drivers in the site selection process are. While certain factors like energy costs can certainly be a more mission-critical item for a data center operator compared to a call center, there are critical components that Juniper reveres as fairly unanimous for most industry sectors.

This article is part one of a multi-post series that will highlight the primary site selection variables, their relevance, and how they are often interdependent throughout the real estate advisory process. With that said, Juniper believes the primary site decision influencers include:

  1. Workforce (attraction/retention/availability)
  2. Cost of doing business
  3. Image of community
  4. Infrastructure
  5. Freeway access
  6. Speed to market/proximity to clients
  7. Business strategy
  8. Existing real estate facilities
  9. Tax structure
  10. Cost of energy and availability
  11. Incentives
  12. Supply-chain strategy
  13. Quality of place

For this post, Juniper will look at the interdependent nature of workforce and quality of place. Juniper finds that there is a strong interdependence with quality of place as a sense of community and its lifestyle amenities go hand-in-hand with attracting and retaining the most dynamic workforce. Workforce is constantly identified by corporate leadership/decision-makers as the single most important factor when making location decisions. Studies also indicate a direct correlation between quality of place and happiness. These same studies indicate that while quality of place matters to all age groups, they tend to matter much more to younger age cohorts (25-34 and 35-49). This is logical given these are the formative years when these age groups shape their careers, purchase real estate, and have children. More times than not, major life events tend to geographically anchor individuals, therefore defining community’s workforce. Accordingly, Juniper recommends that its clients continuously promote and study how to optimize quality of place for this group, so that they are incentive to plant roots.

How quality of place is defined can vary between age groups, according to studies. Younger age groups consider “culture, affordability, regional access, shopping, multi-modal transportation, creative class presence, and finally, recreational and entertainment amenities” as the critical factors when measuring quality of place. On the other hands, older age groups place value on many of these same factors but also consider “safety, strong educational programs, prosperity, healthcare access, and government services” as key influencers in establishing how they define community attractiveness.

It is worth mentioning that quality of place is not reserved for high-density urban areas. Juniper’s site selection experience has been witness to small to mid-size areas competing favorably with large cities. This is echoed in the above-cited article, where “[researchers] find that quality of place plays a bigger role in medium-sized metros than in smaller ones.” The historic main street districts of smaller towns can have a compelling story to tell when competing for a site selection project.  They can offer companies the “big-fish-in-a-little-sea” experience. Of course, it’s important to consider how attributes like limited traffic congestion and real estate affordability can strongly influence people’s perception of quality of place. A few examples such as Greenville (SC), Holland (MI), and Findlay (OH) are just a few small-to-mid-size areas where Juniper has first-hand experience working with communities on attraction and retention success stories, mainly due their ability to create and promote a high-quality of place.

Juniper reminds its clients, both companies and communities, that it’s not just a “build-it-and-they-will-come world” anymore. Companies are finally paying attention to and seeking out places that score highly on quality of place and workforce. Even if it costs companies a little more over the long-run, they are finding the value proposition in other facets, not simply energy costs or incentives. Ultimately, Juniper believes these two variables are highly interdependent and remain crucial to business location decisions.

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