If you want to understand how companies decide where to set up shop, consider the similarities to the game of poker.
As in five-card stud, five factors determine whether a site has the winning hand for a new factory or headquarters.
The first four are all about money. Company and site selection officials evaluate communities based on costs for labor, real estate, utilities and transportation, said Paige Webster, a Phoenix-based site selection consultant.
The fifth factor, he said, is the wild card. Thats the incentives package state, county and local officials offer to attract a new employer to the area.
Webster is scheduled to be the keynote speaker Thursday at the sixth annual Economic Development Forum in Kendallville. The free five-hour event will include lunch and a panel discussion during which employers from a four-county region will talk about what skills workers are lacking and how training programs can be improved.
The overall theme is A Regional Workforce. But the keynote speaker will focus on the process of deciding where to expand or move.
Site selectors are contractors hired by companies to research and recommend sites that fit various criteria. They are expected to advise clients with objectivity and integrity, according to the Site Selectors Guild, an industry association.
Webster is a generalist who works with various industries, including food processing, call center, light manufacturing and airplane manufacturing.
The analysis is all the exact same for all companies, he said.
That means cost is king. And the process goes from general to specific.
We always look at the state; then we look at the region, Webster said. Then we look at the community. We dont have borders.
Economic development organizations in DeKalb, LaGrange, Noble and Steuben counties sponsor the event, taking turns being organizer and host. The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership selects the keynote speaker.
Dale Buuck, the partnerships vice president of business development, said his office wanted someone from outside the Midwest who is active in selecting sites throughout the country.
We always like different perspectives, Buuck said.
Webster has visited central Indiana but hasnt previously been to the northeast corner of the state. Buuck wants to make Webster aware of what this region has to offer.
A primary goal of underwriting Websters expenses for a three-day visit is the hope that the site selection professional will someday soon include northeast Indiana communities among the recommendations he makes to clients looking to expand or move.
Another goal is to receive a professional critique of the 10-county region the partnership represents.
Were glad to hear about the things were doing well – and we think were doing a number of things right, Buuck said. But were fine about hearing concerns, too.
Officials can offset perceived weaknesses, he said, with improvements and incentives.
Webster, who recently launched his own firm, visited 27 states and four countries last year. He describes his job as connecting the dots between communities that want new employers and employers looking for new locations. A good site selector has to be knowledgeable about various communities, the properties available in each and the labor pools, he said.
Spending a few days in northeast Indiana will help ensure that if he endorses the region to a client, he wont miss the mark. Too many mediocre recommendations could lead to lost contracts, Webster said.
You kind of have to start somewhere, he said. You can analyze all this information on paper, but until you come in and kick the dirt, its hard to know a place.