Professional site selectors had some pointed advice for Fulton County economic development officials after a recent tour: Start building.
The advice came after three site selectors — all members of the Site Selectors Guild — toured the Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Johnstown, Pioneer Windows in the Johnstown Industrial Park, a workforce training program at Fulton-Montgomery Community College and the Tryon Technology Park, among other sites, over a three-day visit.
Jim Mraz, the Fulton County planning director, said county officials were told companies looking to move are especially keen on locations that already have buildings they can use, so the No. 1 priority for Tryon should be constructing a shell building.
"They talked about how, in today’s economic development world, many companies don’t want to incur the time and expense of building new,” Mraz said. “Many of the firms want to move into an existing building.”
At Tryon, said Mraz, that might mean building a 50,000-square-foot facility with high ceilings and not much else. Mraz added that he has yet to price such a structure.
Dennis Donovan, one of the site selectors, cited research that shows a majority of companies looking to relocate much prefer sites with prefabricated structures or buildings that can be easily repurposed.
“Sixty [percent] to 65 percent of companies doing site searches today will only consider a site with a modern available building,” Donovan said. “The No. 1 thing they’ve got to do is develop a shell building program.”
Such sites enable companies to avoid a chunk of the traditional startup cost and allow them to see revenue much quicker than if they were building from scratch.
“Shell buildings are going to be really key; it’s going to greatly increase the flow of prospects into the county,” Donovan said.
The site selectors' visit culminated in a public forum, at which the consultants relayed their advice for the county.
Mraz said the forum went “incredibly well,” and that, now, economic development officials have their work cut out for them.
“We brought these guys here because they're the best of the best,” he said. “They have national and international status and experience in economic development and the corporate site-selection business. They were brought here to give us guidance and help us with perfecting our strategy moving forward.
Donovan, of New Jersey-based Wadley, Donovan, Gutshaw Consulting, said he and his colleagues were impressed with the infrastructure: water, sewer and electrical hookups that already exist at many of the development sites.
“From a physical infrastructure standpoint, it really shined,” Donovan said of the Fulton County sites.
Donovan also touted the workforce training framework the county has in place.
“The training resources with BOCES PTECH and [Fulton-Montgomery Community College], they are first class — among the best I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them,” Donovan said. “It helps for companies to expand their workforce and upgrade their skills because the training institutions are already in place.”
Mraz said another takeaway point includes the need to hasten the demolition of buildings at the Tryon Tech Park to improve the appearance of the property.
Donovan said that, while New York state may not have the best reputation when it comes to being business-friendly, Fulton County's competitive labor costs “more than offset” the state’s property tax burden.
“The cost of doing business in Fulton County is competitive with any location, even in the Southeast,” he said. “And this is not in any way exploitative; the cost of living in the area is low.”
Mraz said the site selectors' trip was a success and “affirmation that the path we’re on is the right path.”
“I feel very good, and I think this is exactly what we were going for. Having three site selectors from this prestigious guild coming to little Fulton County, New York, is a major accomplishment,” Mraz said. “We have a lot of good things going on in this county, and the goal right now is to let other people know about it.”
Mraz said he did not have a dollar figure on what it cost to bring the site selectors to Fulton County, but the cost was split between the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth and National Grid.
He added that he’s working on a report that will summarize the site selectors’ ideas and recommendations, which he hopes to present to the Board of Supervisors later this month.