Courtesy of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership
KENDALLVILLE — At Thursday’s sixth annual Northeast Indiana Regional Economic Development Forum, site selector Paige Webster said he was amazed at what the region has to offer industry looking to expand or relocate.
“I’ve never been to this part of Indiana, but after only 14 hours here, I’ve been completely amazed what’s going on in this area,” he told about 140 business and industry representatives and elected officials from northeast Indiana.
When Webster learned that Trine University in Angola produces a lot of engineering graduates each year, he again was startled, saying, “That’s something this region should market. I’ve got a client who’s looking for 500 engineers.”
The Noble County Economic Development Corp. sponsored the forum at Cobblestone Golf Course and Event Center west of Kendallville.
Webster, owner of Webster Global Site Selectors in Phoenix, Ariz., spoke about what site selectors look for when recommending sites for clients.
Webster is one of 275 site selectors in the nation who assist with about 75 percent of new and expanding industrial projects in the country. Site selectors are hired by companies to research and recommend sites that fit various criteria. They must be knowledgeable about the communities they’re considering, the properties available in each community and the availability of labor.
Company and site selectors evaluate communities for costs of labor, real estate, utilities and transportation and quality of life.
Companies moved their operations to Asia and Mexico because of cheap labor, but labor costs in those parts of the world are increasing, so some companies are returning to the United States, Webster said.
“Labor costs is a big factor,” he said. Site selectors may contact human resources managers of companies in communities with available industrial sites to learn more about the local labor situation.
Certified sites that have infrastructure and utilities and are close to major transportation routes are a plus, according to Webster. California has five certified sites. Indiana has 55. He praised the state’s economic practitioners for pushing for certified sites and marketing them.
For local, regional and state economic developers, Webster said national job growth is expected in computational systems, data sectors, digital manufacturing, nanotechnology, health care and medical devices, food processing and warehousing.
“Developing relationships with business and industry is key for economic practitioners,” said Webster. Events such as trade and manufacturing shows are opportunities to network and arrange meetings.
When a site selector considers a community’s quality of life, he’s looking at school systems, recreational and cultural activities, Webster said.
Incentives to industry may be tax breaks, training grants and even cash. Boeing is building a major expansion project in Charleston, S.C., because the state has a Right To Work law, the city has a port and the state gave Boeing $340 million, according to Webster. “Boeing is in the process of purchasing Charleston’s airport,” he added.
The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership selected Webster as the forum’s keynote speaker.