EDCUtah Readies to Take Next Steps in Mega Sites Program

When EDCUtah laid out its FY 2016-2017 Program of Work, the organization challenged itself to develop and deploy a statewide mega sites program that would focus on large tracts of land that could attract landmark economic development projects. The aim was to complete the first iteration of that program by the second quarter of 2017.

To that end, EDCUtah engaged Kent Cannon, professional in residence in the Eccles School of Business, and a talented group of students in the University of Utah Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) program. By December 8, the MRED team will deliver the results of a semester-long benchmark study of mega sites across the country and the data to determine what a mega sites program might look like in Utah.

“Through hundreds of hours of research, these students are developing a theoretical framework that EDCUtah and its partners can use to develop a working mega sites prototype,” says Chief Marketing Officer Michael Flynn. “The result we hope to achieve by the second quarter of 2017 is one fully-vetted mega site that will stand as an example of what can be done in Utah.”

As he describes it, mega sites are large tracts of land – more than 400 acres – where all of the factors that influence the cost of development have been answered in advance. Before a company will consider a site for a billion-dollar capital investment, it needs to fully vet the property: utility availability and costs, transmission lines, engineering site analysis, transportation corridors, etc.

“Having tangible data about a large tract of land removes a tremendous amount of risk for a company, significantly shortens the project timeline, and creates a huge advantage for a community in trying to land a large-scale project,” he continues.

Once the MRED project is complete, EDCUtah will use the proposed Utah Mega Sites criteria to determine the data standards and processes for site certification, identify funding sources for the program’s ongoing development and begin the certification process on at least one site in Utah.

“Our initial objective is to use the study to help us identify one good property and answer all of the pertinent questions about it,” says Stephanie Frohman, director of Global Strategy and Outreach. “We’ll certify one site as a mega site to set the standard and refine the process for the program going forward.”

By “certify,” she means to document all of the factors that affect the cost of developing the site. “With the help of our partners, we hope to have all the data: geotechnical, environmental, engineering, infrastructure, transportation, and available workforce data to begin to market one large tract of land in Utah,” she continues.

Mega sites are common in states like North and South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, adds Flynn. Having a certified mega sites program will allow Utah to more effectively compete for landmark projects that create more than 1,000 jobs, require 400 or more acres of property and involve billion-dollar capital investments.

“Strategically targeting landmark projects and investing in a plan to market Utah mega sites globally is the next logical step,” says Flynn. “Even if we only succeed in winning one landmark project every four to five years, the return on one win would be so large that it would make the whole program worthwhile.”

Thanks to the talented MRED team at the University of Utah, EDCUtah will soon be ready to pilot the first Utah mega site.