June 1, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Certified Sites Attract Buyers

Project Ready. AdvantageSite. Certified megasite.

The names may vary, but the intent is the same. As the economy begins to thaw and industry looks for opportunity, recruiters along the central Gulf Coast are lining up inventory that is ready and available.

"In every business you have to have product to sell," said Robert Ingram, president and chief executive of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance. "In economic development, we have a number of things that we sell including labor force and quality of life. But in the last few years it has risen to the top, especially with big projects, to have shovel-ready sites."

Certification standards vary from program to program, but they generally involve documenting a number of things related to a site -- availability; preliminary environmental, archaeological and geologic studies; infrastructure and utilities and other elements.

One newly minted site is the Helena Industrial Park, which is owned by Mississippi Export Railroad and certified through the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation.

Though getting a site certified costs money, Greg Luce of Mississippi Export Railroad said the work on his site is not as speculative as some projects might be.

One firm is already located there, and Luce said in late May that he anticipated a contract for another. Plus, the railroad has a transloader and warehouse on site.

Having a certified site, he said, just might catch a company's attention despite the still-difficult economy.

"If something really is ready .¤.¤. they might be tempted," he said. "Everybody thinks they can do their part faster than they really can, and they want my part to be done real quickly. Now, my part's done."

The Baldwin alliance late May awaited certification paperwork on a megasite in the north part of that county, near Interstate 65. HK Motors is raising money in hopes of building a hybrid auto assembly plant there, but the company and BCEDA have an agreement that allows additional marketing of the site, said Josh Thornton, BCEDA vice president. Another parcel on Alabama 59, this one owned by Baldwin EMC, is also deep into the certification process.

"Every (request for proposals) that I've gotten this year has asked for site due diligence," he said. "They want to see if they can locate on that site ASAP."

Troy Wayman, vice president of economic development for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, said land owners worked with the chamber to gain certification for a site just off U.S. 43, close to the ThyssenKrupp steel facility.

"Companies that have been playing the waiting game ... once they do make those decisions, I think we're going to see projects on some very short fuses," he said. "I think those ready sites will be very important for communities."

More projects are starting to turn up, he said.

"It has steadily picked up over the past four months, and I think that will only continue to increase."

Freeland said that site certification offers another advantage, this one about relationships.

"In each of these certification formulas there is a well-known, very active and visible site location firm as a centerpiece," he said. In going through the process, "you've also created an advocate for your product and your community through the relationship with that professional site-selecting firm. The business of economic development is about building relationships. What better way to do it than through a process like this?"

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