People around the world were amazed at Jordan Spieth’s performance at the British Open last month. As I watched Jordan almost fall apart and storm back in the final holes, I began to correlate his performance to the art of site selection. There are so many ways to compare golf, as well as Jordan, to the site selection industry and process. As such, I wanted to share with you a few factors site selectors routinely face that are not much different than professional golfers today.

1. Years of practice, knowledge and passion is what it takes to become a site selection expert.
Site selection takes years of dedication to become good at it and, more importantly, it takes passion to become an expert. Many lifetime golfers started playing when they were a kid. They practiced all the time but lacked the true dedication that it takes to become a pro. This is similar to many traditional real estate brokers and other industry service providers who pretend to be site selection experts. They know the buzz words and generally know how the game is played; however, they lack the dedication, passion, experience and knowledge to accurately advise a company on finding the optimal location.  

2. Site selection is played on a six-hole course.
When you think about the site selection process, it is like playing a six-hole course. The following provides a summary of the site selection course:

Hole #1: Strategic Planning ­– The first hole is a very difficult par 3 that goes by very quickly. One bad shot and your whole round may be off for the rest of the day. This is when you mentally get in the game and set the groundwork for a successful round. Each shot is full of questions such as:

      • What region should I target and why?
      • What is the capital investment?
      • What is my timing?
      • What type of real estate do I need?
      • What does the labor market need to provide me?
      • What will be the logistical impact?
      • What kind of economic incentives might I receive?
      • What are the most critical site selection factors and how should I weight them?

Hole #2: The Site Selection Filtering Process – The second hole is a challenging par 4 that has a ton of sand traps, lots of water and the most difficult rough that you have ever seen.  You have to filter out locations that don’t remotely meet your criteria which means it is critical stay in the fairway and out of the trouble. You will want to use reliable data including population, core demographics (age, household income, educational attainment, etc.), industry clusters, unemployment rate, cost of living, wage rates, union rates, tax rates, time zone, real estate cost, utility costs and other similar variables.  If you keep it in the fairway, then by your fourth shot you have narrowed the field to the top 10 cities for your company to locate. 

Hole #3: In-Depth Site Selection Analysis – This hole is clearly the longest par 5 on the course. It is very demanding and narrow through the trees. Each stroke is an analysis of labor availability, labor costs, accessibility, logistics, competitor saturation, real estate availability, business climate and economic incentive conditions. Your final putt into the hole reveals the top two to three cities that most closely matched your site selection criteria.

Hole #4: On-Site Due Diligence – You are now back to a par 3 of which each shot is a tour of the finalist cities. You are meeting with government officials, economic development organizations, utility providers, staffing agencies, real estate owners, university officials and interviewing employers. Accuracy is very important so you want to hit the green on the first shot. If you are lucky, you might hit a hole in one or a birdie which means you found that right fit on the first tour.

Hole #5: Real Estate & Economic Incentive Negotiations – By the time you get to the fifth hole, you are starting to get tired but your game has really come together. This looks like an easy par 5 from the tee box until the wind picks up as soon as you tee off. Each shot is tricky, just like a counter proposal for more economic incentives and lower real estate costs. The odds are you are going to hit a couple of balls into the sand or water on this hole and you might even be headed back to the tee box. In the end, it turns out to be a much longer hole than you thought but you sink it in the hole.

Hole #6: The Ribbon Cutting – This is the moment every golfer is looking forward to. Just like Jordan at the British Open, you are coming into the final hole a couple of strokes ahead of the competition. Your deal has been documented properly with a lease or purchase agreement for the real estate deal and the economic incentive purse is waiting for you at the end of the course. Your company and the community are cheering for you, and the television cameras are focused on you.

3. You make mistakes along the way.
Just like Jordan on hole 13 of the British Open, you are going to make mistakes along the way, and they can be bad ones. There is no doubt you are going to hit a ball out of bounds — into a sand trap or water during a round of golf. Similarly, making mistakes is part of the site selection process. However, you can’t let one bad mistake ruin your entire round. You must recover and use that lesson learned to give you the passion to pull through, win the game and find that location that is the best fit for your company.  

4. Economic incentives are the purse at the end of the round 
Many think Jordan Spieth is on his way to becoming a legendary golfer like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer. These golfers have racked up millions of dollars in winnings over their careers. Economic incentives such as tax abatements, tax credits, cash grants, utility rebates, payroll rebates and other economic incentives are a site selector’s purse that we win for the client. The better the site selector, the more savings we rack up for our clients year after year.

5. The site selection tools available today have changed the game.
I remember my first set of clubs, which had drivers made of actual wood and a putter that was about 1 inch wide. The clubs that golfers play with today are custom built and utilize the latest technology to make the game easier (at least for some). The site selection industry is no different. The geographic information science (GIS) tools we use today as well as the accessibility to unlimited amount of government, labor, customer and consumer data has made the site selection industry more complicated and potentially dangerous than ever before. Site selection is an art so pulling data will only take you so far. It comes down to how you use the data and, more importantly, how you uncover antidotal data that can’t be purchased or found on the Internet.

Conclusion
Golf is an amazing sport and there are so many things you can learn from it. Being a site selection expert is no different than being a professional golfer. You have to be dedicated to it if you want to do the best job possible for your clients. It comes down to a balance of knowledge, integrity, passion and teamwork to do it right. The next time you hire a site selector, just make sure it is someone with the integrity, skills, knowledge and passion of a golfer like Jordan Spieth.

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