After a product readiness assessment of an industrial building site in Washington, Darren Lamb, community and economic development director, shared “the good, the bad and the ugly” with the Washington City Council.
The Missouri Partnership, in conjunction with local communities, offered the new consultant outreach in 2013 as part of its marketing activities, Lamb told the council.
The partnership chose three areas for review, including the Branson/Springfield area, Moberly and Franklin County.
The city of Union and East Central College also participated in the assessment. Communities that had either existing buildings or certified sites through the Department of Economic Development and were active in the Certified Work Ready Communities program were given special consideration.
As part of the assessment, the city had to submit a mock RFI (request for information). Up to three sites in the county that would be offered as a project site could be submitted.
In Washington, Lot 12 of the Heidmann Industrial Park was submitted. One site in the Union Corporate Center also was chosen.
Washington’s site is 80 acres and is a pregraded lot, Lamb said. It’s located across from Valent Aerostructures.
Lamb said the evaluators thought Washington had an “exceptional industrial park,” as well as a great base of existing industries.
“They were pretty impressed with a community our size, in Heidmann,” Lamb said, noting they only saw Heidmann and not the city’s other six industrial parks.
Site evaluators gave praise to the city for running a separate website, Washmoworks, where site consultants can look up site location information without sifting through a community website.
The consultants made a special note of the excess water and sewer capacity and said to market the sewer treatment facility and the fact that Washington is (or soon will be) a work ready community. Evaluators said the city’s RFI submittal and proposal were well done.
Consultants were in Franklin County for two days.
The site consultants also pointed out several possible negative aspects of the site in its review.
Lamb noted that some of the items aren’t necessarily bad, but could get the city “tossed out” if an industry is very critical of one aspect.
Consultants noted that as a part of the St. Louis metropolitan area, Washington is a “nonattainment area,” meaning air pollution levels exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standard.
The city also has emission controls, unlike some other industrial areas.
The site is less than a mile from a residential area, which could sway some potential industries.
Additionally, 50 miles or less to an international airport is ideal, Lamb said. Washington is just over that limit.
Some industries also look at a volunteer fire department as a drawback, Lamb said during the presentation.
Price per acre was the biggest concern for the site evaluators, Lamb said, however, price can be adjusted.
The second, and most controversial aspect, Lamb said, was the lack of a spec building.
Their argument, he said, was that cities lose a lot of looks because industries look for a spec building.
Lamb said that a spec building is a “very expensive marketing tool.”
The final drawback is that the site needs more ground, he said.
Lamb highlighted several recommendations from the consultants including to lower the price per acre substantially, brand and market the park globally by incorporating St. Louis into the name; develop a new marketing piece for the park;
Market regional workforce numbers, including the St. Louis area; market the number of jobs created and square footage built within the park; formalize an aggressive incentive package for the park; construct a speculative building in the park. Size and parameters should be researched;
Enlarge the entrance signage to create more of a presence; and begin the search for acreage for an additional industrial park.
Lamb said he also had the opportunity to ask about Franklin County’s role in economic development, as the county has talked for years about hiring an economic development director.
“Their argument was ‘If they don’t have a product, they don’t need a director,’ ” Lamb said, meaning that unless a new park is developed, a director is not needed.
Site consultants recommended the county focus efforts on employers in unincorporated areas as well as smaller cities, update community economic development strategy (which is a requirement to have on file and to keep updated), and assist in marketing efforts for existing programs.
Lamb said it was good to go through the exercise and that the evaluation gives the city some goals moving forward.