Site Visits Introduce Companies to Communities

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Bringing Exterran Energy Solutions to the Mahoning Valley was no simple task, Sarah Boyarko says. But the ultimately successful effort illustrates a key principle in economic development, “understanding how important it is that the company finds exactly what they want” and connecting it with the right site.

“It took a while to get here but they were pleased the moment they saw it,” recalls Boyarko, vice president for economic development at the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber

The Regional Chamber receives property inquiries from Team NEO, a regional economic development organization headquartered in Cleveland, and JobsOhio, the private agency that manages the economic development efforts in Ohio, as well as site consultants.

Last year, the chamber received 75 property inquiries from companies outside the region that resulted in 37 site visits, Boyarko reports. So far this year the chamber has received 34 inquiries resulting in 17 site visits,

Exterran “originally came to the table with a request we could not meet on the local level,” Boyarko remembers, because no suitable buildings were available.

“We had to pass on the first go-round,” she says. Subsequently, the company returned, this time looking for sites where it could build, and local officials identified one in Youngstown. In 2013, Exterran opened its plant here where it fabricates production equipment used to treat and process natural gas and oil.

Most projects take “a considerable amount of time,” Boyarko remarks.

Still, she cites TMK IPSCO in Brookfield, where it opened a pipe-threading operation in 2010. Area officials quickly identified a suitable site for the company and coordinated the local and state responses. “That project went very quickly,” Boyarko says. “That wrapped up in just a few months.”

Site visits are “very important,” emphasizes Walt Good, senior director of Team NEO’s JobsOhio regional office. Although site visits aren’t something he participates in much anymore, he engaged in them when he worked in the Regional Chamber’s economic development office.

By the time company representatives visit a community to inspect a site, they have “whittled out a lot of communities” through due diligence, online research or in-depth analytics, Good says.

“That tells a certain story but it doesn’t tell the whole story,” he continues. “When you’re able to talk about a piece of land or look at a building and able to set up a meeting with local officials and introduce them not just to the site, but to the community, you’re just in a much better position to win the deal.”

Good cites Matalco Inc., which is building a $100 million plant in Lordstown, as an example of a project that resulted from a successful site visit. The company “had a lot of communities” it was considering and “spent a lot of time visiting sites and zeroing in on a site that would really work.” One aspect was identifying a site that was not “heavily impacted by wetland or site preparation issues,” with utilities nearby that could meet the demands of a new plant, he says.

“The company made a significant investment visiting sites, not just here, but in Michigan and other locations to find what would work best,” he says.

“It’s a lot stronger of a prospect if we can get them to the site because [that means] it’s made the shortlist,” agrees T. Sharon Woodberry, director of community planning and economic development for the city of Youngstown.

The city receives between five and 10 inquiries each month, she reports. More often than not, they’re for an existing building.

Along with Exterran, Woodberry cites the effort to bring VXI Global Solutions to Youngstown among successful site visits. The city controlled both the site where Exterran located and 20 Federal Place, the building where Los Angeles-based VXI opened its local call center in 2009.

“It was critical for us to help with the initial investment that [VXI] needed,” Woodberry recalls. Federal stimulus funds that the city secured helped prepare the space for the call center, which has expanded to encompass more than two floors.

“A lot of times we end up with not necessarily company folks” but site selection professionals who “decided to go beyond looking on the Web,” says Mike Mancuso, executive director of the Salem Area Sustainable Opportunity Development Center.

Site visits provide “an opportunity to give [visiting executives] a little flavor of the community,” Mascuso says. During these visits, the center tries to have one of its board of directors, which is made up of local business owners, accompany the representative, “so they can talk shop,” he says.

“We try to find ones with connections in their supply chain,” he adds. “It’s like connecting the dots for them.”

Asked to name the result of a successful site visit, Mancuso points to the new Holiday Inn Express in Salem. “When they started to look around, they landed here first,“ he says.

Pictured: Matalco Inc.’s $100 million plant under construction in Lordstown.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.