Q&A with Don Cunningham about Site Selectors Guild Conference
By Colin McEvoy on March 1, 2016
The world’s foremost association for professional site selection consultants recently held their annual conference, and the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) was there.
LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham attended the Site Selectors Guild‘s 2016 Fifth Annual Conference in Nashville, Tenn., where he had the opportunity to network directly with many of the world’s best location consultants and economic development professionals.
Read below for Cunningham’s thoughts and insights from the prestigious event:
Can you tell us about the Site Selectors Guild?
Cunningham: The Site Selectors Guild is an organization comprised of the nation’s leading site location consulting firms. Site selectors, location consultants and national industrial commercial brokers are involved with virtually every major company relocation. If they don’t know our region exists, they can’t recommend that a company comes here. That’s why I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last two years getting to know members of the Site Selectors Guild and other location advisers, as well as attending events like these, where we have the opportunity to connect with them directly.
What did you think of the annual conference?
Cunningham: It was an excellent event, both for the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts by corporate officials on how their companies make location decisions, and for the unique opportunity for networking and relationship building with the consultants who lead this profession. The Site Selectors Guild is a relatively small group — about 60 members — and only about 200 additional people were in attendance representing states and regions, so it created a very intimate setting to connect with each other and learn some of the key drivers from location decisions.
What is the biggest factor when it comes to those decisions?
Cunningham: According to the latest information from the site selectors, the leading factor for company locations is talent. As the economy changes due to technological advancements, and the workforce demographics change with the baby boomer retirements, availability of trained people is the most critical factor for companies when it comes to choosing or remaining in a location. For years, total operating costs was the leading factor in location decisions, but now talent surpassed even that.
What are some other factors that go into location decisions?
Cunningham: Besides talent and total operating costs, other key factors include transportation, access to market, the cost of labor, incentives, political stability, and energy costs. And as we’ve seen with the growth in recent years, the Lehigh Valley is very well positioned in all of those areas, particularly in the industrial and commercial sectors.
Were there any major trends or forecasts discussed at the conference?
Cunningham: Manufacturing is expected to continue to be attractive and grow in the United States, and there was a great deal of discussion around foreign direct investment (FDI), meaning companies abroad locating within the United States. There are a number of reasons why this is the case: escalating wages in Asia, the desire of companies to produce goods close to their customer base, shipping and tariff costs rising, quality control, and protecting intellectual property. The top country for FDI in the United States has been Germany, followed by China, Japan, and the U.K.
You recently wrote a column about the trend of international investment growing in the Lehigh Valley.
Cunningham: The Lehigh Valley has been quietly on the front lines of this trend. It was recently announced that the Japanese medical device manufacturing Nihon Kohden is opening a technical and product support location in South Whitehall Township. Eight of the Lehigh Valley’s 19 major business attraction/expansion projects last year were international companies. That’s 42 percent. The Site Selectors Guild stressed that economic developers aren’t just competing with others in the United States anymore, but in countries throughout the world. That’s why LVEDC has been active in international recruitment, such as recently translating the region’s economic asset information and marketing into eight different languages.
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