Why does EDCUtah spend so much time and resources to build relationships with site selectors and commercial real estate executives?
Simply put, because site selectors are a small group of professionals who provide expert advice on locations for corporate relocation and expansion. They are some of the most influential contacts in terms of being considered for business relocation and expansion projects. More than half of the economic development projects that EDCUtah works on come to the organization through site selectors. Furthermore, some of the largest project wins, in terms of jobs and capital investment, have come through site selectors.
"Site selection was a critical component to nearly every major project that has come to Utah in the past decade," says EDCUtah President and CEO Jeff Edwards.
EDCUtah recognizes the value and importance of the site selector community and has conducted research for the past several years to survey the site selectors on a variety of topics related to economic development in Utah. By analyzing the survey data, EDCUtah has been able to refine its business recruitment model. Most recently, with support from the Governor's Office of Economic Development, EDCUtah conducted a perception study to better understand site selectors that view Utah favorably versus those that view the state unfavorably, and why.
EDCUtah reached out to 589 site selectors. Of the 589, 138 completed the online survey, representing a 23 percent completion rate. The responding site selectors fall into three categories: "promoter," "passive" or "detractor," which are similar to categories advocacy groups and other organizations use when trying to measure sentiment among their constituencies or targeted audiences. EDCUtah compared the results of this survey to previous surveys completed in 1993, 2010 and 2013. Here are some key findings:
Generally, site selectors are visiting Utah more than they have in the past.
Site selectors are exploring Utah for clients more than they have in the past.
Utah scores well in most metrics compared to other states.
Utah has a low Net Promotor Score (NPS), which is an index that measures the willingness of site selectors to recommend Utah to clients. The score is used as a proxy for gauging a site selector's overall satisfaction with Utah and loyalty to the state.
Utah has great opportunity to convert "passive" site selectors to "promoters."
"Passive" site selectors are those who are somewhat neutral in their willingness to recommend Utah to a client, whereas site selectors who are "promotors" are very willing to recommend Utah to a client.
When EDCUtah conducted its first site selector survey in 1993, 63 percent of the respondents said they had visited Utah. For this most recent survey, 89 percent of the site selectors said they had visited Utah. Meanwhile, since 2010 the number of site selectors that have recommended Utah for a project has grown from 75 percent to 89 percent.
Regarding the state's strengths, Utah's young, educated workforce ranks first among site selectors, followed by the business-friendly environment and quality of life. On the other hand, the site selectors surveyed in 2016 ranked Utah's location and transportation access as its greatest weakness, followed by its small population / lack of labor concentration and tight labor market.
When considering a given location, the site selectors identified the availability of skilled labor, low overall operating costs and business-friendly government as the three most important factors. Those who felt most strongly about those factors were more likely to recommend Utah to clients. Utah's pool of qualified, entry-level workers had the greatest impact on the likelihood to recommend Utah of any other factor. "Convincing site selectors that Utah has qualified, entry-level workers increases their likelihood to recommend the state more than any other factor," says Michael Flynn, EDCUtah's chief marketing officer.
When considering Utah's performance, the site selectors said Utah's five greatest assets are its high competitive labor costs, low overall tax burden, low construction costs, competitive incentives/tax exemptions, and low utility costs.
Regarding the site selectors with the highest net promoter scores, 100 percent of them had visited Utah and the majority thought favorably of Utah's business climate and its trajectory. Meanwhile, 91 percent of the passive promoters had visited Utah, but the majority still favorably viewed Utah's business climate and trajectory. Of the detractors – site selectors that were least likely to recommend Utah for a project – 83 percent had visited Utah and the clear majority did not view Utah's business climate or trajectory in a favorable way.
After analyzing and reviewing the survey data, Edwards says the EDCUtah team is developing a strategy to improve Utah's position in the eyes of the site selectors that are passive promoters, while strengthening and leveraging relationships with those that are active promoters of the state. "The passive site selectors are on the fence. With some effort and better understanding of Utah, they can be converted to promoters," he explains.
One of the first steps will be to invite them to visit Utah. EDCUtah has found that site selectors who have visited Utah are more likely to recommend Utah to a client. Another step will be to educate them. Edwards says 16 percent of the passive site selectors do not know about Utah's current business trajectory, while the detractors know even less. Other strategies involve overcoming industry misconceptions, especially in the financial services, IT/software development and life sciences industries.
Regarding Utah's perceived weakness in location/access, Edwards says Utah has better access and is a more strategic location than the passive site selectors and detractors realize. As for population and labor density, he notes that Utah's concentration and urbanization is not understood. To close that gap EDCUtah will develop opportunities to educate the site selectors in those two areas.
Utah's population growth, educated workforce and in-migration all serve to help overcome the perceived weaknesses. Flynn says Utah's unique population concentration, patterns, and access to labor are assets that EDCUtah will leverage in future marketing efforts to site selectors. "Many of the site selectors don't know that 80 percent of Utah's population lives along the Wasatch Front. We have great access to labor. In some instances, we just need to better demonstrate how we compare to other markets," he explains.