Site Selector: Arkansas' Strong Economic Development Teams An Asset

Site Selector: Arkansas' Strong Economic Development Teams An Asset
Phil Schneider

Phil Schneider is the board chair of the Site Selectors Guild and has been in the industry for more than 30 years. As the president of Schneider Consulting of Waukesha, Wisconsin, he works with companies around the world to help them choose new locations for expansion.

From Monday through Wednesday, the Site Selectors Guild is holding its annual fall forum in Little Rock. The members-only gathering offers the group time to discuss investment and sector growth predictions, site selection trends and insights, and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) predictions.

Schneider talked to Arkansas Business about his job, the site selection industry and Arkansas' strengths as the state works to attract employers.

Arkansas Business: What does your job entail?

Phil Schneider: Site selectors help companies figure out where to put their operations. We are hired to screen areas — we may be hired to analyze whether they should have a new location or whether their existing locations are better off. They may come to us and say, "We want to do a screening of the world or of North American or of the United States or of part of the United States for a new … manufacturing plant, distribution center, headquarters, research and development facility, shared services operation, call centers — that sort of thing.

Most of us don't do retail but we do everything other than that that would be a functional corporate operation.

So the job is to determine where is the best place for them based on a wide variety of factors driven by their industry, by their function, by their particular project at that time.

AB: What about Arkansas stands out and what would make a company want to expand or build here?

PS: Every company makes its decisions based on its own particular criteria so it's really difficult to say that. I've never had two projects the same and I've done more than 400 site selection projects.

Now, I've looked at Arkansas for many, many years and many times and — this is a generalization — but Arkansas has traditionally had very strong economic development professionals at the state level and at the local level and they know what they're doing. They understand projects and they understand the communities in the state and the sites in the state and the programs that they have that help a company during this sort of decision at the state level and at the local level. They understand their utility partners — the service providers, the gas providers, etcetera. They understand the market pretty well, and that can be very important because you can have a very good product but a very poor team to promote it.

The other states in this part of the world are very good at economic development, so Arkansas is certainly one of them that has evolved over many years to be an excellent economic development team …

AB: What do companies always look for when they are searching for a site?

PS: Workforce. Talent. People. 

There are many, many factors  — a manufacturing plant may have 50 or 60 things that they're looking at and then they have 10 or 15 really important ones within that bunch. The one thing that stands out in the vast majority of projects — probably more than 95 percent of projects — is workforce. If it's not the most important thing it's certainly in the top three … It just continues to increase in importance in my lifetime because the skills that are required for today's manufacturing and today's services continue to amp up and change very rapidly. 

Areas that have the ability to develop, retain and attract talent win. Consistently. And after that I'd say it's very robust infrastructure — great roads, great utilities, great infrastructure overall. Those two issues drive the majority of projects.

AB: How has economic growth been across the country and in this region?

PS: It comes and goes, and it comes and goes in different regions. One region may be hot and others cold — one region thinks they're in a recession and the other is in boom time. So I always laugh when we hear stuff at the national level that, "We're doing great," or "We're doing terrible," and I go, "Well where are you talking about? This is a big country."

In the site selection world it's been a very strong vibe for a number of years now. We've been growing steadily since our terrible recession and it's done very well for the U.S. in general and particularly for the southeast and south-central U.S. Our economy has certainly been growing and certainly been adding jobs and adding projects. There's been a slow but steady rebirth of manufacturing and Arkansas has benefited from that.