Episode 51: Confessions of a Millennial Site Consultant: An Interview with John Longshore

November 5, 2018

On this special episode, we interview a rare Millennial Site Consultant. John Longshore is a Senior Consultant with Global Location Strategies (GLS) out of Greenville, SC. He entered the job market during the 2008 recession with a special appreciation for what it means to create jobs and has been helping companies and communities ever since. We asked John for his take on Amazon’s public location search, the process for evaluating a community’s talent pool, his economic development marketing peeves and much more.

Patience Fairbrother (DCI): The site selection profession is made up of highly respected consultants who companies go to for advice on some of the largest investments they will ever make.

Andy Levine (DCI): This elite group is known for their smarts, their analytical framework, and their no-nonsense approach to selecting the very best location for their clients. But they’re not exactly known for being young.

Patience: That’s right. Traditionally, the industry has skewed more on the seasoned professional side. But if you look closely, you’ll find a group of young rising stars who are passionate about helping companies bring jobs to their communities.

Andy: One of those individuals is our guest on today’s show. John Longshore is a rare millennial Site Selection Consultant.

So welcome to Episode 51 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions.” I’m Andy Levine of Development Counsellors International.

Patience: And I’m Patience Fairbrother, also with DCI and Andy’s co-host of “The Project.”

Andy: So, this week, we’re gonna bring you a bit of a different take on our usual format. Patience and I talked with John Longshore. He’s a Senior Consultant with Global Location Strategies, or GLS for short. And John is also a millennial.

Patience: Well, he’s 32, so still technically a millennial. But I’ll throw myself under the bus and say that, at 26, I’m probably closer to the stereotype of the snowflake generation.

Andy: That’s right, Patience, you are very special.

Patience: Thank you.

Andy: Anyway, back to John. He started working with GLS as a business analyst about six and a half years ago after graduating from Clemson University. He studied civil engineering as an undergrad and then city and regional planning in graduate school, also at Clemson.

Patience: We asked John for his take on Amazon’s public location search, his economic development marketing pet peeves, and much more. Here’s our conversation with John.

Andy: We’re delighted to have John Longshore with us today. John is a Senior Consultant at Global Location Strategies in Greenville, South Carolina. John, welcome to “The Project.”

John Longshore (Global Location Strategies): Thank you for having me.

Andy: You’re such an important person that both Patience and I are gonna interview you today.

John: That’s great.

Andy: So, we’re excited about this. So, John, I wanted to start out, first of all, among site selection consultants, you’re a bit younger than most of them. By my estimate, you’re about 30 years old. Do I have that correct?

John: You’re two years off. So, I’m 32.

Andy: You’re 32. Oh, then you’re an old man. Okay. Well, that still makes you a whole lot younger than most of the site consultants that are out there. And I’m wondering sort of, how does that change your perspective? How does that change your approach to site selection work?

John: Yeah. That’s a good question. So, when I was ending my undergrad, you know, that was right when the recession was really beginning to hit hard. And so, from my own personal experience, friends, family, you saw the impact of the loss of jobs locally, regionally, nationally, and you saw what it meant to have a job and what happens when that’s not there. And so, it provides a very kind of…it was a very foundational point in my life. Right? I’m trying to get out of college. I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do, but yet the economy is not really moving anywhere. And so, I have that as a very kind of linchpin moment in my life and that helps me kind of maintain perspective in what I get to do day in and day out. Helping companies and helping communities, and really helping to drive economic development and job growth.

Andy: So you graduated Clemson, this is 2009, 2010, something like that?

John: So in the end of 2008, I was coming out with a civil engineering degree from Clemson. And, you know, essentially, I had a degree that a lot of other companies were laying off very experienced people with this background. And so it was a very tough time to have that particular degree and try and get in that particular industry.

Andy: But what I’m hearing you say is that you sort of have a personal appreciation for what it means to create a job, given the time that you graduated college.

John: That’s right. I had this, you know, very millennial pie in the sky idea in my head. So this is post-undergrad and I’m looking towards grad school and maybe what I wanna do. And the idea was, how can I impact cities? How can I impact regions at a very large scale? And, you know, still being a fairly ignorant young 20 year old, I didn’t know what that was gonna look like, but I knew I wanted it to look like something. So what was it gonna be. And so it was while in grad school back at Clemson, you know, getting a master’s in city and regional planning that I fortuitously stumbled upon site selection. And through just kind of researching it I thought, this maybe that thing. This maybe what allows me to have the kind of impact that I wanna have.

Andy: A second question I wanna ask you, you know, you are an older millennial actually, but you’re part of a generation that sort of has grown up with technology. So my question is, how is technology changing the way site selection work is done? You know, once again, I go back to many of the site consultants that you would interact with at say, the Guild Conference, you know, these are guys in their 50s or early 60s. You know, here you are at 32. So what’s your perspective on technology and how it is changing the site selection work that’s done?

John: You know, well, I came into it at a pretty good time in terms of technology. So before Google Earth and, you know, the internet. It’s hard for me to grasp how site selection was done efficiently, you know, 10, 15, 20 years ago and all that was required. So, you know, you’re having to mail out RFPs, you know, people are sending you these huge binders, and you’ve got maps just coming out left and right from your office. And so, the ability to not have to do things quite like it was done in the way in which kind of the old timers say it was, I’m very appreciative of even just where it is now from a technology standpoint. But as a millennial and, you know, you look at the efficiencies and the productivities of other industries and how they shifted. I still think that site selection does have a way to go and we’re making some good strides to it.

But site selection is very…it’s very personal, it’s very relational in the sense that I need very, very specific information. That information is not really stored on a database somewhere. And because all projects are different, if I wanna run project, that data can shift pretty significantly in terms of my ability to evaluate it against a new project that comes down the line. So, we’re still having to figure out how do we have unique technology and adoption across various industries, utilities, transportation representatives, all these different people to adopt it to make the ecosystem work more fluidly, work more efficiently. Because if we can make it more efficient, then we can help drive investment and economic development and growth more quicker.

Andy: Any trends that you see in terms of technology changes that will advance us in the future? When Patience interviewed your partner Didi Caldwell, she shared that she thought virtual site selection tours were certainly an example of something that was changing the way technology work in site selection.

John: Yes. So, you know, I guess just to recount a little bit of what this virtual tour is. And it surprises me that it’s not as more commonplace. So what we do within a virtual site tour is that we try to eliminate the site visit, that first site visit. We try to gather the information that we need from all the right industry partners, but do it in a way that saves people time and money and effort. And so, you know, it’s pretty much, very much a glorified webinar, but it takes coordination. We’ll have, you know, we could have anywhere from 30 to 40 people that have been organized to jump on this webinar at different times. And so for us, you know, we’re talking with state, local economic developers. We’re talking with the local engineers. We’re talking with utility partners, rail, all these people. And then we’re using… For us, we’ll use GoToMeeting and they’re putting up their maps and, you know, here’s our engineering drawings and our estimates for this and that.

And sometimes we have our client on the call and it really allows us that personal contact to start developing that relationship with these, you know, various representatives from the community to begin to have effective dialogue to move a project forward. Because we can get information from an RFI and a database, but talking directly to, you know, the head of the waste water treatment facility or talking directly to the real economic development representative, we will get information from those that we wouldn’t have gotten from an RFI.

But it also saved us time down the line in terms of not having to go to the site. We can make decisions quicker that way. For us, where I think it’s gonna go in terms of technology is the ability to engage all these representatives to get the information we need in some form of maybe one centralized location, you know, it’s called a website or piece of software that allows projects and unique information to be shared back and forth and to be able to evaluate things quicker. Because right now, the typical process, you send an RFI, you get the information back. All that information goes into various models and you’re touching this information in many different ways and you’re engaging with all these different people. And so, you’re gonna find that that whole process is gonna be brought together and made more fluid.

Patience: So next we wanna touch on a specific factor that you have valuate that, you know, has really come to the forefront of all the conversations we have with the executives on “The Project” and that is talent. So could you just walk us through, in simple terms, how exactly you go about assessing a community’s talent and how that meshes with the company’s needs?

John: Sure. So, you know, a little bit of background on GLS. We do primarily a lot of heavy industrial manufacturing. And generally what this looks like is, we are driven so much more by the site, the utilities, the infrastructure needs, access to raw materials, versus labor. Not that Labor is not important a part of the evaluation, but it’s important to understand how we generally approach the labor question. So we will identify sites first, generally speaking, rather than come at, you know, a community and just screen them out based on labor. So do you have a site that works? That’s the first question. Okay, does it work? We will then, based on, you know, our coordination with the company say, “Okay, here’s the jobs you need, you know, by occupational code and here’s how many you need.” And we will use…we personally at GLS use JobsEQ to gather a lot of the wage and labor availability information and do an initial screening.

And if there are some real big red flags, you know, in the site, let’s say it’s questionable, then that might be enough to move it along. But generally speaking, we are screening in location for the site. And when we get down to those final let’s call it four to eight sites, then we’re taking a deeper dive. We’re getting a lot of localized information that’s not available on a database. So, what we like to do is we’ll send employers, local manufacturing like plant managers, human resource representatives a survey that asks them, “What is it like to do business here in this community and what is it like to hire the people that you need?” And that survey comes back directly to us. We don’t share it with the economic developers. So we get honest feedback from them.

And sometimes it’s brutally honest, you know, to the point where if that’s a consistent feedback across companies, then that can be enough to eliminate. So there’s an effort to understand from an economic development standpoint, what are your employers saying about you. What will they answer if they were sent these types of questions? And so making sure that they are good champions of the community, of the workforce. And so, from there, we then will get down on the ground. We’ll actually do in person interviews. And so all the information goes, from the databases, to the surveys, to the direct interviews, all of that just becomes part of the equation of understanding what is the labor situation in this community.

Patience: So we’re gonna switch gears to talk about another hot topic. Talent is one of them, obviously. And another one is sort of the public approach to the site selection search versus the private approach. So Amazon obviously has taken a very public approach to its HQ2 search. Apple on the other hand has taken a very private approach. What from your perspective is a better path?

John: I can answer this in multiple ways. So, if I were to go with…if I were representing a company, you know, let’s say I was representing an Apple or an Amazon, what I would recommend… I would personally prefer the private route. I think it allows for the engagement to be very truthful and honest, right, so there’s no public facing pressure already. Like, I can engage them on the things that I need without any public pressure or awareness, media scrutiny, things like that. And it’s just the way in which I prefer it being done and it makes things go a lot smoother within the site selection process. So the Amazon, there’s the good and bad of the Amazon. So, we can start with the bad first is that, it engaged communities to be busy and try and submit something that they couldn’t even hope to land. Right? So, all of a sudden it’s out there, let’s put pressure on our economic development representatives to put some sort of package together. And we have no chance of winning, but you need to do it, where they could actually be running real projects instead.

So, I don’t particularly like that, but the good about it is that it has raised awareness for the site selection process and the need for, you know, the evaluation and all the analysis. And so, just the fact that it’s brought this awareness to the site selection profession is good. And I appreciate that. Amazon has also forced communities to work together in ways that they may never have worked together before. And so they may not win but next time. It’s positioned them in a way to know who the right people are to communicate with, work with. And so they may lose out on this one, but it may help them win in the long run. So, if I’m running the project, I would like to keep it private, it makes life easier. But with the Amazon thing, there’s the good and the bad.

Patience: So, you have a great blog that we’ve done some reading on and you’ve written a little bit about economic development marketing in the past. So, let’s touch on that. Are there communities high on your radar right now that are doing a really good job, getting your attention, and what kinds of tactics are you seeing that are effective as far as marketing?

John: Yeah. This is always, you know, a fun question. And I have my own personal opinions and that’s what the blog probably reflected. Others might disagree with me and that’s fine. It’s just how it works. But, you know, for me, the site selection and economic development world is very, very relational. And I need to know who I can contact within a community, within a utility representation, any of that. Like, I need to know who it is that I can work with. And so that relationship side is so important. And so for me, I remember you if you come to my office you’re visiting, you’re coming through, you’re on some sort of tour to visit site selections.

I will remember you if you come to me more than you trying to send me an email saying, “Hey, look at my new website.” I’m probably not gonna look at it. If you send me a newsletter, who knows, like, if I come in, I’ve been traveling, there’s a bunch on the desk, it may find its way into the trashcan, you know, whether it’s digitally or physically. And so, for me, anything that screams relationship, we wanna talk to you, we understand who Global Location Strategies is and we think that the projects you represent would be a good fit. Anything that moves towards a relationship for me will stick.

Andy: So, if someone is coming to meet with you in your office, maybe you and two or three of your colleagues or maybe it’s just you, what does the ideal meeting look like? So, an economic developer is coming, they scheduled the time with you at 11:00 tomorrow, what do you want them to bring and, you know, what is the ideal meeting? What is the ideal face to face meeting at your office?

John: Yeah. I think, you know, first and foremost is understand who you’re meeting and the types of projects that as a site selection company, that they may represent. So, if I get somebody from a large metro area who comes to me and says, “Hey, you know, we’re trying to attract large headquarters, and we have this amount of office space. And, you know, we have a few two acre properties that you could build something.” Like, that’s not going to do it for me. Like, it’s not the projects that I represent. And so that’s a big red flag.

One, they didn’t do their due diligence as to who we are and just it’s not a good use of our time. And so, for us, if you’re coming to GLS, are you trying to attract manufacturing to your community? Do you have sites available that you can talk to us about that would be a good fit for what we do? And then are you doing anything innovative that you need to let us know about? So whether it’s any sort of new unique job training program. Things like that are very useful to us to learn and to understand who you are as a community, and then how potentially maybe not now, maybe five years from now, that ultimately we will remember you and we can come to you when we need it. So, it really is about just understanding, you know, each site selection group is different and just understanding how could you fit and how can you sell what you do so that you can be remembered by that site selection group. So, do your due diligence before you show up.

Andy: Another follow up on that is just, does any one meeting that you’ve had in the past year stick out to you? Like, this was different. I’ll always remember this person because of what they did in that 30 minutes they had in our conference room.

John: Yeah. So, I mean, it’s a little bit unique because it’s a different country. So, we had representatives from Promote Iceland come in and what they are really good at. So they have very cheap electricity. They have various industries that are very heavy in nature. So, aluminum smelting and they are positioning themselves in a way to attract large manufacturers that may come down our pipeline in the future. And you just remember it because, okay, that super cheap electricity, I need to know that because one cent per kilowatt hour on electric, for us, that’s a big deal on some projects. And so knowing that information, knowing how they can uniquely fit, you know, a potential client of ours. You know, that was just very… You just remember it, it’s captivating. And so, Iceland is one of those, but it’s a little bit unfair because Iceland is distant. It’s a little bit unfamiliar to most people and so there is this level of curiosity and discovery with something kind of fairly new.

Andy: So be like Iceland is your takeaway. Okay, got it.

John: Yeah, yeah. You know, try to call yourself something with son or daughter at the end, right?

Patience: So you’ve touched a little bit on some of the pitfalls that you’ve seen as far as what isn’t effective. But if you had to pick one, what would you say is the least effective marketing technique that if you could wave your magic wand, you would just say, “Economic developers, get rid of this. Never do this again.”

Andy: We call it pet peeves. John’s pet peeve department.

John: John’s pet peeve department. So, one pet peeve would be, in your marketing material, I need to know who to contact to get the information that I need. Whether it’s, you know, for your community, for a site. I need to know who to contact. And if I go to your website and I go to “Contact Us,” if it’s difficult to find you, that just frustrates me and wants me, you know, I wanna throw my computer out the window. Or if I go in and I need to find the economic developer to contact and then the first half of the “About Us” page is the, you know, the Board of Directors and then at the bottom is the economic developer, that is just frustrating to me. Like, the economic developer is the most important one. Board of Directors, you don’t need to be on the website. So, that’s probably, you know, pretty high up there when it comes to marketing.

Patience: So do not make John look for your phone number. It should be there.

John: Yeah. And don’t have a click here and fill out this, you know, whatever, this pop up form and we’ll get back to you. That just doesn’t… Why would you do that? Like, you want me to call you, so let’s make it easy. Probably pet peeve number two or three, I’m not sure how we’re counting those, would be, you know, when I’ve told you who we are, what we do, and the products we represent, and then you turn around and say to me, “Hey, here’s our 20,000 square foot spec building.” And I’m like, okay, you didn’t really listen to what I said and I appreciate this and I hope somebody goes into your spec building, but this isn’t applicable and best of luck in having somebody get in there. So, that’s probably top two, three pet peeves.

Andy: Okay. I think our final question for you, John, is, I know you love working at Global Location Strategies, it’s a great company with a great reputation. But if you could work for any private sector company, who would it be? And if you were to leave the site selection world of consulting and could work for a company, what comes to mind?

John: Yeah. So this was a good question that I haven’t really thought about. I know that’s maybe a little bit atypical for a millennial. You know, most millennials are hopping around from one job to the next. But, you know, I thought maybe I’m supposed to answer Google or Facebook. And I did think about, I really love coffee, and I love that you kind of do the whole, what’s the craft thing that I can do, right? And so I thought about, so there’s a, you know, Counter Culture is a big coffee roastery and I just think like, wouldn’t it be great to learn from them that craft. But I kind of pushed that down a side too and so my answer is, a company that you’ve never heard of. My wife’s stepfather runs a very successful scaffolding and busting company. And I know you’re thinking, this doesn’t sound like an amazing company.

But what I’ve been able to do in helping a lot of fairly large family owned and operated companies in terms of site selection, those family owned companies have been some of the…not the… They’ve just great to work for because you see…you’re able to get to the leaders and you see the value that they have for the people that they employ, you know, across a state, across their entire system. And you really get to see like, they own it. They see the value in what they do. So, it’s a little bit of an unexpected answer, even for me it was kind of unexpected, but I think that’s probably the most honest answer that I could give.

Andy: Okay. Honesty is always appreciated. I’d also just say As the owner…a second generation owner of a family owned and operated firm, I think your comments are very wise. It’s great to work for a family owned firm, especially if you are in the family. Anyway, I think that’s a great note to end things on. We really appreciate your time on the phone with us today and thank you for being our guest on “The Project.”

John: Thank you so much for having me.

Patience: Thanks, John.

Andy: So that is a wrap on Episode 51 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions.”

Patience: We want to thank John Longshore for speaking with us. We really enjoyed our discussion.

Andy: “The Project” is sponsored by DCI. We are the leader in marketing places and have served over 450 different cities, states, regions, and countries. You can learn more about us at aboutdci.com.

Patience: We hope you will keep listening. There are many more projects to come.

 

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