Site selection skinny

April 15, 2016

Business Observer

Six people who help companies worldwide choose cities and towns for expansion, and in some cases, a new headquarters, recently spent a few days in Tampa.

The assignment: Report back to business leaders and economic development officials on what the city does right and what it does wrong, and where it can improve.  The sextet hit many Hillsborough hotspots, from a Frozen Four college hockey game at Amalie Arena to a manufacturing facility tour in Plant City, in east Hillsborough. “It was a really fast-paced visit,” says Colleen Chappell, chair of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., which hosted the group. “We didn’t want to miss an opportunity to bring a deal to this market.”

The group spoke about their Tampa experience at a breakfast forum at the Waterside Marriot in downtown Tampa April 8. Highlights of the forum include:

Money matters: At least two site selectors disagreed with the premise that incentives and subsidies are tools to help close a deal, and aren’t a make-or-break part of the process.

“Incentives shouldn’t drive a location decision,” says Larry Moretti, a principal with LFM Corporate Location Solutions. “That said, they often drive a location decision. Closing funds are real, real important because they represent cash.”

Christopher Lloyd, with McGuireWoods Consulting, adds that clients have told him incentives are a way the state, or county, can “’show us some love.’”

Love it: All six members of the site selection group praised Tampa, both for how far it has come as a player in global site selection and the potential for more. “You are not just making a niche play,” says Lloyd. “You are giving us a lot of opportunities. The market has matured to the point where it’s only a matter of a time (before it lands a headquarters.) And probably not that much time.”

Tampa, adds Deane Foote with Foote Consulting, “can compete with any city in the world for a lot of projects.”

Space issues: A lack of space, industrial and Class A office specifically, was mentioned multiple times. Clients, Foote says, don’t want to wait for in-the-pipeline space when making a relocation decision. “Available buildings will get more projects to town,” Foote says.

Think bigger: More than one panelist lightly chastised Tampa for being too parochial on economic development. Andrew Shapiro, with Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co., for example, says the city and county should include places such as Orlando, Polk and Sarasota in its pitch because those areas offer companies more options.

“Regionalism is a topic where this area has struggled,” says Shapiro.  “But companies don’t see jurisdictions. “They don’t see lines on a map.”