News & Views

Episode 57: Notebook from The Guild: Four Takeaways from Four Consultants

Last month The Project Podcast traveled to the Site Selectors Guild Annual Conference in Salt Lake City. And we conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with some of the nation’s top site selection consultants. For the second installment from the Salt Lake City meeting, we just picked out some of the most interesting takeaways from our discussions with four, different Guild consultants.

  1. Data Not Words (Darin Buelow, Deloitte Consulting LLP)
  2. Try Before You Buy Emerges in Site Selection (Larry Gigerich, Ginovus)
  3. Keep Your Money…Show Me The Training (Mike Mullis, J.M. Mullis)
  4. Talent Rules But Don’t Ignore Business Climate (Jay Garner, Garner Economics)

We cover these topics in rapid-fire approach in this 13-minute episode.

Andy Levine (DCI): Last month The Project Podcast traveled to the Site Selectors Guild Annual Conference in Salt Lake City. And we conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with some of the nation’s top site selection consultants.

Patience Fairbrother (DCI): So much came out of these interviews, we decided to break up the content into two episodes. We filed the first one earlier this month that focused entirely on the topic of Talent. And we’re getting a great response to Episode 56: “Talent is The New Currency of Economic Development.”

Andy: For the second installment from the Salt Lake City meeting, cleverly called, Episode 57, we just picked out some of the most interesting takeaways from our discussions with four, different Guild consultants.

Patience: So welcome to episode 57 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions.” I’m Patience Fairbrother of Development Counsellors International.

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

Patience: So Andy, let me get this straight. Your concept for this episode is just four completely random takeaways from the consultants that you interviewed in Salt Lake City.

Andy: That’s right. I went through all of the transcripts of 5+ plus hours of interviews and picked out the most interesting and surprising elements of the conversations. And in rapid fire, we are going to share them one-by-one.

Patience: So it’s sort of a “Best of The Guild Conference” compilation. Okay, let’s get started, tell us about takeaway #1.

Andy: I call this one “Data Not Words” and it focuses in on the inability of most economic development groups to describe the unique capabilities of their workforce. It comes from a conversation with Darin Buelow, a Principal with Deloitte Consulting LLC.

Darin Buelow (Deloitte Consulting LLC): Site selectors, by our nature, are skeptics. And we have heard in every community that we go to, the local economic developer says “we have an awesome workforce.” “This workforce is extremely productive.” “The plants in the companies and the offices you’re going to meet with are all going to brag about how this is the best in their national network.” And we hear that everywhere.

So, what does that become? That becomes a platitude that is ignored. Anything that can’t be backed up with fact, with numbers, with statistics, with citations of sources is generally ignored by the site selector and the clients.

Andy: Does it hurt their credibility to be sharing those platitudes without backup, without facts?

Darin: I think it doesn’t help. The two things we hear in every community is we’ve got a great workforce and an awesome quality of life. Two things that cannot be measured. How do you measure a great workforce? So, I mean, that’s a platitude. So, instead of that, I would have advice for local economic developers that they should spend time assessing the skill base in the community. What skills and occupations are present?

You might have a low unemployment rate but that could be a workforce that is underemployed, that has core skills that are relevant to a higher occupation. They might have math and science skills. They might have great telephone skills, or they might have accounting skills. You have to figure out what those skills are and understand how they could relate to higher-end jobs. And those are the jobs you want to attract.

Patience: This reminds me of the “Your lips keep moving but all I hear is blah, blah blah” t-shirt.

But let’s keep this show moving. What’s takeaway #2?

Andy: I really love this one. It comes from Larry Gigerich, President and CEO of Ginovus. I call it the “Try Before Your Buy” Approach to Site Selection.

In this case rather that a company making a final selection, they decide to conduct a test in the two finalist markets. And in the world of “We Work,” they can actually do this pretty easily (at least for office projects). Here’s Larry Gigerich:

Larry Gigerich (Ginovus): One of the other interesting trends we’re seeing right now is this idea of companies with…especially with the incredible growth of co-working spacing, “We’re going to go into couple markets and test.” So not just do like we’ve done in the past, phantom job postings, but go in and say, “We’re going to establish co-working space and hire 25 people in each of those two…”

You know, especially when we get down to maybe two finalist markets and see what their success is with bringing people on board before they ultimately make a decision to make a to do a larger facility there. And especially we’re seeing this now on the technology side, in particular on IT and software where companies are going in saying, “We’ll go into space like WeWork space. We’ll ramp up to 25 on both locations and then see how it goes.” To be kind of the final deciding factor for them ultimately where they commit to for something much bigger.

Andy: That’s really fascinating.

Larry: Yeah

Andy: Have you seen a lot of that? Can you give me an example of a company you’ve work with?

Larry: I think it’s just started here primarily in the last 18 to 24 months. This trend really has accelerated and, certainly one company that is starting to experiment with this is a company like Oracle Corporation. Oracle’s going into a market and saying, “Okay. Let’s go into co-working space. Let’s test out a couple of these final locations before we commit to putting in, 200, 300, 400 people in the market.” And you’re going to see other…I think you’re going to see other technology companies in particular doing that more and more.

Andy: That one really blew my mind. Larry went on to mention that for some of these large, fast-growth companies, they like being able to hire someone and then say – you can move to Dallas or you can move to Denver. You choose…we don’t care. We just want you to come work for us.

Patience: Amazing. Okay, take me to #3

Andy: So #3 comes from Mike Mullis and I love interviewing this guy. He’s such a straight shooter with this down-to-earth, Tennessee twang but super intelligent. I call this one “Keep Your Money – Show Me The Training.”

Patience: Sort of a play on “Show Me The Money” and Jerry Maguire, no?

Andy: That’s right. Here’s Mike Mullis talking about how companies value an established training program.

Mike Mullis (J.M. Mullis Inc): A state would have marketed it this way.  We’re going to put X amount of money into your employee solicitation and training. We don’t want the money. Money means nothing to us. We want a program that is well documented, well developed. If you go to Georgia and you go to Alabama, you go to Texas, you go to Louisiana, they work with you to write a very specific program for screening, testing, recruitment, selection. And that program is what you’re really looking for where you’re bringing your knowledge of your product or service that you’re going to be expanding and growing and that state backing in all of its skillset and capability to help you write that program. So the states today that say…whatever the number is. We’ll give you a $1000 employed towards your training. We don’t…that doesn’t even count to us. We want to know what the program is.

Andy: So is the program like Georgia’s Quick Start Program?

Mike: Or Louisiana Fast Start, Virginia’s putting in a new program. Tennessee’s got a very sophisticated program. North Carolina. It’s…when we announced Caterpillar, the governor stood on the podium in the capital with a chair of Caterpillar and he said, “Why Georgia?” And the chairman of Caterpillar said, “Because you listened. You understand our…you understood our needs and you didn’t give us anything canned. You put programs together to fit our needs.”

Patience: When you listen to the states that Mike mentions it seems like the South has an edge over the rest of the country.

Andy: Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama these are the states with exceptional workforce training programs. And we hear this about over and over again from consultants.

Let me take you to #4.

So in Salt Lake City, I interviewed ten consultants and nine of them kept putting access to and the quality of talent at the top of the list of any site location search. Jay Garner was the exception.

Patience: So what’s Jay’s point of view? Here’s a snippet from Jay and Andy’s conversation.

Andy: You were starting to say you have a different point of view than some of the other consultants in terms of talent. Talent is rising in importance, but am I hearing maybe it’s getting too much play?

Jay Garner (Garner Economics): I go back and say that talent has always been important. The reason why it’s getting the play now is because of talent attraction. And what it takes to get that younger generation to move to a community. You only grow your workforce two ways. It’s from within, internally, which is primarily from your existing population or births, or from people who move into a community. And of course, that’s the $10,000 question is how do you get people to move into a community?

So it’s that kind of thing. But what is the difference? And this is where I get a little bit of a scratch my head when I see all this stuff, people are forgetting about the overall business climate of a community.

Now, what’s that mean? Well, business climate would be all of those policies and laws that either local or state government enacts that have an impact on business, whether it’s a positive impact or a negative impact.

And if you have a poor business climate locally, it drives companies out. If you have a positive business climate, it’s going to drive economic development into that community. And, being here at our Site Selectors Guild conference. And tomorrow, we’re going to hear from Holly Sullivan from Amazon.

And one of the questions that I want to ask, when we’re able to ask questions is, how important to you was business climate? Because the reason why they made their announcement is because after the fact, and with all of the activists who demonstrated against it, that’s part of business climate, that’s part of the due diligence that you do when you are making a site evaluation. And so it drove them out.

Andy: But am I hearing you say that they focused almost too much on talent?

Jay: They did.

Andy: And ignored some of those New York concerns that would have come up if they took a more holistic view.

Jay: You know, as an outsider looking in, and from [crosstalk].

Andy: It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback.

Jay: From what I read, from so-called non-biased publications about the whole issue in New York, it appears to me that their focus was primarily on talent, which is a key component, especially when you’re going to have 25,000 people, obviously. But what drove them out? What made them change their mind? It was business climate.

Andy: So talent is important, but it’s not the only factor.

Jay: Talent is a means to achieve the end. The end is a successful operation of that investment project. Talent is one component.

Patience: Did you hear others share similar thoughts on the Amazon search?

Andy: Very few consultants wanted to talk about Amazon HQ2 with a microphone in front of them. But there was a strong feeling that Amazon miscalculated on New York’s business climate and in particular the state and city’s political environment.

Patience: What did Holly Sullivan of Amazon have to say about the decision to pull out of New York?

Andy: So from my notes, here’s the quote from her session at the Guild meeting:

“I still like my friends in New York. But we’re not scared to pivot on a decision…We weren’t sure we had the political support at this time. We wanted to make sure our employees felt welcome.”

They pivoted. And they pivoted quickly. Kind of an amazing move but that’s the kind of company Amazon is.

Patience: So that is a wrap on episode 57 and four takeaways from four different site selection consultants.

Andy: Our special thanks to: Darin Buelow, Jay Garner, Larry Gigerich and Mike Mullis for their contributions to today’s episode.

We also want to thank Rick Weddle and Michelle Comerford for inviting us to the Site Selector Guild Annual Conference in Salt Lake City.

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

Andy: We hope you will keep listening, there are many more projects to come.

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