Economic Development 101: NETWORKS’ Walker on “Selling Your Site” panel


Photo above: (L-R) Panelists Mike Evans, Clay Walker, Brad Maul and Bryan Daniels at the Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development Oct. 26 in Gatlinburg.  Photo by Scott Robertson

By Scott Robertson

Clay Walker, CEO of NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership sat as an expert panel member during the “Selling Your Site” session at the October 2017 Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development. Walker was joined by Bryan Daniels, president and CEO of the Blount Partnership; Mike Evans, executive director of the Montgomery County Industrial Development Board and Brad Maul, target market specialist, product development for Tennessee Valley Authority Economic Development. The session was attended by rural and new economic developers eager to learn how to make it onto the list of localities being considered by site selectors and major employers for new jobs and capital investment.

Most projects involving new companies (as opposed to expansions of existing companies such as those reported on page 28) come to communities attention through the state department of Economic and Community Development, meaning the company involved is already looking for incentive dollars. Said Allen Borden, deputy commissioner of Business, Rural and Community Development for the state ECD, “the winner of these projects is really the last community standing. Site selection consultants are really site elimination consultants.”

“They have boxes they tick off,” Walker said. “And if your community doesn’t have what they’re looking for, be it a 400,000 to 500,000 square foot flat space or broadband or whatever, they will check you off and move on.”

The two biggest things companies are looking for are inventory of available flat land or buildings and a ready workforce, Walker said. “Of course, you’re out of the game when you’re out of inventory. In Northeast Tennessee we’re very fortunate to have already made those investments.”

Added Daniels, “Companies can go anywhere in the South and find communities where they don’t just have an option on a piece of property, they’ve already got the site grading done so the companies can be quicker to the market. It is so competitive anymore. You hear people complain about incentives. That’s reality. It’s a world market and until it’s outlawed all over the world, it’s going to be a competitive market and incentives are going to be a part of the capitalist system.”

“And now at ECD,” Borden said, “we’re getting the workforce question even before we get the site question.”

“That’s the advantage of having something like the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing,” Walker said. “Anytime you can get a prospect into that building, it is a differentiator, and advantage for us. Another advantage for us is the folks who are already here. We like to get the prospects to meet the HR folks for our existing employers – leave the room and let them talk. We don’t coach them up, but we know our workforce, so we know from our existing industry program what they’ll be saying.”

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