Chamber Provides Insights on Site Selection Process

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The World War II era admonition “Loose lips sink ships” conveys the top reason communities lose out on economic development projects, says the Youngtown Warren Regional Chamber’s Sarah Boyarko.

“The lack of confidentiality is just a project killer,” Boyarko, vice president of economic development, North America, for the chamber, said Tuesday.

Lack of confidentiality tops factors — including a weak incentive package, lack of direct highway access or skilled workforce, or inability to locate an ideal property — that cost communities a business expansion or retention project, Boyarko told a dozen local officials during a program held at ITT Technical Institute aimed at providing insights into what companies and their consultants look for when they search for project sites.

“We’ve actually won projects because another community did not keep a project confidential,” Boyarko said. Breaking confidentiality not only spoils the particular project but the consultant involved “will never bring you someone again,” she added.

Confidentiality is important for several reasons. These include timing for seeking incentives or potential issues with existing customers or partners the entity might end up competing with as a result of the project, she said. Also, given that these companies are making multimillion-dollar investments, “We should really allow that company to make the project announcement.”

The chamber’s economic development department serves as “the point of contact for all state assistance,” Boyarko noted. It has relationships with JobsOhio, the state economic development agency, and Team NEO, a regional development agency that serves houses JobsOhio’s regional office, as well as site selectors and consultants that act on behalf of companies by investigating potential project sites and communities.

The information these consultants seek depends on the specific industry. “There are always a lot of workforce questions based on averages wages in a specific industry or availability of a skilled workforce,” Boyarko said. “They’re going to ask questions about competitors in the area, services around logistics, warehousing, distribution, possibly the largest employers.”

The primary asset a company is looking for when it selects a site is “direct or good highway access,” Boyarko said. Other factors include location, incentive packages and quality of life, which she says is typically important among firms from outside the United States.

The chamber keeps updated information on available properties and buildings and other community data, such as utilities, infrastructure, local incentives and demographics. Requests for information typically require a response within 24 to 48 hours, Boyarko said.

Yesterday’s program provided “a good refresher course,” remarked Karen Jones, a Lordstown Village council member. She noted the chamber was “instrumental” in helping Matalco Inc. identify a site for its $100 million plant, now under construction in the village.

“It was very informative to know what they expect from local governments when a community isinquiring about the area,” Jones said.

Michael Dockry, township administrator for Austintown, said he also found the presentation informative. “It was interesting to find out that the No. 1 asset companies are looking for is public highway access,” he said.

Chamber officials were actively involved with Penn National Gaming Inc. as it worked with local officials to identify a site for its Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course, which opened last summer in Austintown.

“I remember them coming and just asking us what we felt, [about] having a gambling facility in our community, and what our thoughts were about that,” Dockry remarked. “I think that was very important as to Penn National going forward and considering that site.”

A second program for local officials is scheduled for Thursday at Trumbull Business College, running from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Two more programs are planned in March.

Copyright 2015 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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