Economic Development Series: Hosting a Successful Prospect Visit

CDFS-1504
Community Development
Date: 
03/11/2013
Nancy Bowen-Ellzey, CEcD, Assistant Professor and Field Specialist, Community Economics, Ohio State University Extension

A fundamental rule of advertising states that you don't get a second chance to make a good first impression. This adage is especially true when a community hosts a prospect visit from a major company looking for a new location. When a prospect visits a community, they are typically in the final stages of their site location decision-making process. Their aim is to narrow the typical list of a dozen or so suitable sites to a "short list" of just two or three. The prospect visit is a crucial step in the recruitment process; the community must be well prepared to ensure a successful visit while minimizing the chances that their site will be eliminated. This fact sheet is a guide for how to prepare for and conduct a successful prospect visit.

What is the purpose of the visit?

Prospects visit a community to confirm or answer questions about the finalist's location. Questions usually relate to details about sites and buildings, the workforce, organized labor, quality of life, and the attitude of the community toward new industry. Prospects will routinely want to interview similar businesses on questions related to workforce, work stoppage risks, or other industry-specific issues. These interviews are almost always done confidentially and face-to-face. The visit also gives the company an opportunity to "get a feel" for the locale and visualize their facility in the area.

Determining where to place a new facility is complicated. Companies often employ professional consultants to help them determine the most profitable location. All business attraction projects seek to satisfy a number of location criteria. Depending on the industry and the company, these criteria are prioritized and weighted differently, but generally there are 13 site selection factors: labor, real estate, utilities, transportation, supply chain impacts, educational system, operating costs, governmental taxation and regulatory issues, environmental considerations, business interruption risks, political stability, quality of life, and incentives (Colson, 2008). The community should be prepared to answer questions about the strengths and weaknesses of the community as related to these factors during the site visit.

What are the key components of a successful visit?

There are four key components of a successful site visit:

  1. The local prospect team
  2. Company research
  3. Itinerary and information packet
  4. Follow-up steps

Local Prospect Team

A prospect team is usually formed by the Economic Development Director (EDD) to represent the community and prospective sites and answer any and all questions the company has during the visit. The team knows in advance what to expect and what their roles are during the visit. The team is comprised of the following representatives: 

  • Local Economic Development Director (EDD)
  • State/Regional Development Lead Agency Representative 
  • Local/Regional Elected Officials and/or Development Agency (Community Improvement Corporation [CIC], Port Authority) 
  • Utility Representative(s)
  • Chamber Representative
  • Schools Representative
  • Workforce Representative
  • Relevant Company Representatives
  • Site or Building Owner(s)/Representative(s)
Prospect Team Representatives and Roles Played
Representative Role
Local EDD Prospect point of contact. Assembles and prepares the local team, develops the itinerary, and coordinates the visit (more detailed responsibilities are summarized on the next page).
State/Regional Representatives Prospect point of contact. Collaborates with EDD to coordinate the visit. Represents state and regional incentives or programs that might apply to the project.
Elected Officials Serve as ambassadors to confirm that government support is present and will continue well after location of the project.
Utility Representatives Serve to answer questions and provide specifications and/or allay concerns about utility requirements or upgrades that might be needed for the project. 
Chamber Representative Represents and can answer questions about the formal business community network, services, and advocacy available to support the potential project. Confirms the community's interest in the project.
Schools Representative This is usually the superintendent of the local school district. Confirms the quality of the schools based on presentation of supporting statistics, and any curriculum or facility upgrades expected.
Workforce Representative Prepares workforce facts to demonstrate the number of available workers with specific skill sets, and summarizes workforce training programs and incentives to meet the company's customized needs.
Relevant Company Representatives Local companies of similar size, type, and workforce are often called upon to meet with the prospect to answer confidential questions related to workforce and community support.
 Site Owner Answers potential questions regarding sale or lease and timeline. Typically, the owner will be the city, county or CIC, and is also involved in the site visit. 

Role of the EDD

The EDD is the "point person" responsible for coordinating and maintaining communications among all parties involved in the site visit. The primary communication responsibilities of the EDD can be summarized in two categories:

  1. Maintain communication with entities or individuals representing the company, before and after the visit. This includes state or regional economic development agency representatives, the site location consultant, and representatives of the company. Through this communication, the EDD must determine the specific expectations regarding the community visit. The EDD develops a detailed itinerary to give the company exactly what they ask for, including where they want to go and who they want to meet with. The EDD must be flexible because the itinerary can change at a moment's notice. The EDD should have an assistant behind the scenes, at a telephone, who can keep communications flowing throughout the day.
  2. Maintain communications with the local team members to prepare them for their role in the visit itinerary. The EDD holds at least one team planning meeting prior to the visit to do a "run through" of how the visit will play out. Each team member has a role to play with an accompanying script specific to the company needs. The company might or might not want to meet with elected officials during the visit. The local development director identifies who is needed based on company and site specifications. The EDD should also educate the local team on the importance of company confidentiality, and may request that team members sign confidentiality agreements.

Company Research

The EDD, local team, regional, and state level partners should learn as much as possible about the company, their industry, the project (utility and labor requirements especially), the company's competitors, and the community's competitors. Researching the company and industry trends affecting the company provides baseline information that can help the EDD and team respond effectively.

It is essential that the EDD know the workforce and demographic information as well as other local assets that pertain to the company and industry. What is the project timing? What are the key location factors? How many skilled workers are available within a commutable distance that meets the company's workforce needs? There might be a question that can't be answered during the visit. The EDD should be prepared to pick up the phone to ask for assistance when needed, and know whom to call (Sowders, 2011).

Itinerary and Information Packet

An information package, including a detailed itinerary, should be put together by the EDD. It should be well thought out, allowing for flexibility to anticipate changes that might arise. The itinerary should be coordinated in advance with the state and/or regional JobsOhio staff to address the following:

  1. Transportation. Identify the vehicle that will be used, and make arrangements to secure the vehicle. Decide who will pick it up, who will drive (or caravan), and who the passengers will be (make these decisions ahead of time!).
  2. Lodging. If company representatives will be staying overnight, offer to make reservations. Check with the hotel to make sure the rooms are well prepared. Outfit the rooms with "goodie bags" of locally manufactured items.
  3. Stops. Plan the route, where the stops will be, and for how long. Drive the route prior to the visit. Make sure everyone along the route is prepared for the visit and for any last-minute changes. Have contact information for all stops.
  4. Site/building. The company is keenly interested in the site or building, and in spending as much time there as needed to determine whether it meets their needs. Making sure that the site is prepared and that the appropriate team members are available is critical to a successful visit. The site should be in optimum viewing condition (mowed, debris removed, etc.) and the roads in usable condition.
  5. Meals. Plan where and when meals will take place. Take into consideration a variety of menu options to accommodate vegetarians, and include relevant local company representatives as guests, if feasible. Make sure meals are aligned with the itinerary and allow for enough time but not too much.
  6. Information materials. Distribute the itinerary with the list of team members and contact information along with other briefing materials. Include a CD and a three-ring notebook that includes information on the community's quality of life assets (schools, recreation, culture, safety, etc.) in addition to information on educational institutions and training programs, maps of the site, state business climate and programs, local incentives, tax structures, local wage and benefit surveys, and labor information. Pertinent information about the site, including utility data, should also be included. Provide links to local and state websites for more information and updates.

Follow-Up Steps

Four steps should be taken immediately following the visit to ensure continued positive communication with the interested company. The following steps are recommended:

  1. The EDD should send a hand-written thank-you note to the company representative for taking the time to visit. An e-mail is fine, too, but a hand-written note is less common and will be remembered. Team members and others involved in the visit should also be thanked for their involvement. 
  2. The note should be accompanied by any additional information requested by the company (if any) during the visit. 
  3. Create a password-protected section of your website containing all the information they have been given. The prospect can then share this information with others.
  4. Debrief the team on the visit and take notes to enable you to make improvements for next time. 

Summary

The key to a successful site visit is a comprehensive, planned approach by a local prospect team including key community members. A successful site visit is the beginning of the next phase of the recruitment process. If the prospect decides not to locate in your community, ask them to evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts. This feedback will improve your future efforts, as well as create one last opportunity to have the prospect consider your community. Each site visit is a learning experience; use it to improve on future efforts. Securing a site visit in itself is a victory for any community.

References

  • Canada, E. (1994). Economic development: Marketing for results. Blane, Canada Ltd. Colson, J. (2008).
  • The attributes of successful business attraction. AngelouEconomics. Retrieved April 10, 2012, from angeloueconomics.com/Articles/Success.html (no longer available online).
  • Sowders, J. (2011). Landing the big one: A case study of business attraction do's and don'ts. Economic Development Now, 11(14). Retrieved April 10, 2012, from iedconline.org/EDNow/071811/Business_Attraction.html (no longer available online).
  • Stark, J. (1989). Industrial parks: A step by step guide. U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration.

This fact sheet is a revision of the OSU Extension fact sheet "Hosting Industrial Prospects," originally written by Perry Varnadoe in 1996.

Program Area(s): 
Ohioline http://ohioline.osu.edu