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Opinion: How to win the development attraction game

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Each year, the Springfield Business Development Corp. measures “leads.” That’s what we call potential job creation projects when working with companies searching for a new place to locate. In the past, we’ve averaged about 30 leads per year. Last year and this year, we are closer to the 50-lead range annually for the 10-county region.

The goal is to take these potential projects and make them actual projects. If we can make it to a company’s short list for a site visit, our chances of winning the project are much higher.

There are two significant factors in whether we get to this pivotal point in the highly competitive process to win projects.

The first is available workforce, which is certainly a challenging part of the equation across the country – and we are no exception. But the other increasingly critical component of transitioning from a lead to a project is having the right buildings and land development options available for industries associated with quality jobs. This is an area where we have the opportunity to create assets in the short term that will help us stay in the competition.

The current industrial building vacancy rate in Greene and Christian counties together is 3.2 percent. This is extremely low. We simply do not have enough of the type of real estate on the market that meets economic development criteria. The demand is evident.

As part of an effort to help solve this problem, Tom Rankin of SVN/Rankin Co. recently developed a speculative 100,000-square-foot industrial building. It was leased well before completion, with the tenant adding another 30,000 square feet to the construction. Another 200,000-square-foot space was developed on a speculative basis at Springfield Underground recently; it’s also already claimed.

We continually monitor office vacancy rates in the region, as well. That number for Greene and Christian counties combined also is very low at 4.6 percent. The leads we are working with have specific criteria that our current capacity simply does not meet. This is another reason why the IDEA Commons expansion project is vitally important. It will help meet many of those criteria, especially in the information technology industry.

The other aspect of making certain we have the industrial and commercial real estate assets we need is working with area city and county development processes to be certain they are effective and customer-focused. This ensures Springfield is viewed as a good investment for real estate construction.

Investment in infrastructure that supports building site readiness has a strong return. The city of Republic is an excellent example of this kind of intentional planning and focus. Their investment in sewer and transportation infrastructure positioned the community well to win a number of attraction and expansion projects due to site readiness.

In Springfield, there are opportunities to invest in infrastructure projects that check priority economic development criteria boxes. For example, making much-needed road improvements to allow for the development of the surface area above Springfield Underground – an area with rail service and immediate highway access – could be an excellent fit for Springfield’s quarter-cent capital improvements or eighth-cent transportation sales tax proposals.

A large industrial building or an open-floor-plan office is an incredible draw right now. If we can get a company to visit an available building or site here, our experience has been that it’s much more likely this region will win the project. If our region can advance more fully development-ready sites and buildings constructed on a speculative basis, the current demand by site selectors tells us they’ll be occupied. And it’ll spur more growth.

As the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and many other community partners work collaboratively to address growing and developing our workforce to compete for quality jobs, we also need investors, developers and public partners to focus on creating the high-demand real estate assets that will help us convert leads to projects and, ultimately, the announcement of quality jobs.
 
Ryan Mooney is senior vice president of economic development for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at ryan@springfieldchamber.com.

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