Since product is the #2 challenge in economic development (#1 being workforce), we want to know what the product landscape is in our core market area of NC, SC, and VA. Who has more buildings, certified sites, and rail sites? Your community can be the best at other things, but if you don’t have product, the competition is over. So….who stands out?
Our research over many years has shown that about 65% of companies want an existing building. Approximately 17% prefer a building. Buildings are the name of the product game. That leaves only about 18% preferring a site. That’s why site development is so important, the competition is fierce. With sites and buildings, it’s not about quantity but quality. Does your building inventory have high ceilings or your sites have utilities in place?
Some Disclaimers Up Front — We used each state’s online database of sites and buildings, just like a prospect. Prospects see the results of their searches and do not know, or care about, the stories behind the data. Even though we know that VA has spec buildings, since it is not a searchable field they cannot be identified quickly. South Carolina changed criteria for listings in the database a few years ago, thus their inventory may appear smaller. For several years Virginia did not have a state-recognized site qualification program. Even though the data have a backstory, we report what a prospect sees. Also, we did the research at a specific point in time and the databases are fluid.
Building Inventory Comparison
We researched industrial buildings greater than 10,000 SF then added filters for 20′ and 25′ clear ceiling heights because of the general desire for higher ceilings. North Carolina has more than twice the number of buildings greater than 10,000 SF with 20’ clear than South Carolina and approximately 26% more than Virginia. The number of North Carolina’s buildings with 25’ or greater ceiling height clearance is almost double of the other two states. NC and VA have a concentration in smaller buildings, with declining numbers of larger buildings. SC is different in that they have more buildings in the 100,000 SF range than smaller buildings.
Shell or speculative buildings are important assets to communities, providing a way for the community to compete. North Carolina offers 37 spec buildings compared to South Carolina’s 29 . Virginia did not offer a way to query this data point from the sites and buildings database. We note this as a weakness in search functionality.
Site Inventory Comparison
We researched industrial sites over 10 acres then filtered for certification and rail-served. Virginia offers 26% more sites greater than 10 acres than North Carolina and well over twice the number in South Carolina. All three states show a declining number of sites from small acreage to large until about 100 acres when the trend reverses and there is an increase in the number of sites. The trend shifts to decline again around 500 acres. We know that a raw piece of land is different from a site that has been vetted and certified. South Carolina has approximately double the number of certified sites than NC or VA. Rail-served sites are unique and have a niche advantage. The states of Virginia and South Carolina have approximately 18% more rail-served sites than North Carolina.
Since buildings are the name of the game in product, North Carolina comes out on top. When it comes to qualified sites, South Carolina leads the pack. Knowing your competition is important in economic development. Take some time to peruse the sites and buildings database of your competition then compare that data by searching your own database. What does the prospect see? How does your community stack up?
The research should lead to the next question – how can you improve your competitive position? Creative EDC uses similar analysis as above when we complete product studies for counties and regions. We completed a spec building feasibility study for Catawba County that compared the local inventory to regional competitors. In a site assessment for Greenville, NC we ranked sites and recommended development steps for the top four. Wake County has used our proprietary tool, CreativeSiteAssessment.com, for four years to analyze potential industrial sites. Alexander County certified a spec building under our Certified Industrial Building Program. Research and analytical tools are important for product planning, garnering support, and determining where to place resources. Do your homework – the competition is!