It's been over a decade since EDCUtah launched its "SURE Sites" property database, the tool primarily used by site selectors and real estate executives engaged in corporate relocation or expansion projects.
Now it is time to redesign the popular web platform and EDCUtah plans a fiscal year-end launch of the new SURE Sites program to coincide with the rollout of the organization's new website. (SURE stands for "Select Utah Real Estate.")
"We felt like it was time to re-examine the SURE Sites program to ensure it is still relevant and serving its purpose," says EDCUtah Chief Marketing Officer Michael Flynn. "What's more, technology has improved greatly over the past few years, so we can now develop a more robust tool than was previously possible." The redesign process includes a wholesale restructuring of the back-end database and front-end user interface, along with a review of all of the properties in the system to ensure they are up-to-date and appropriate for EDCUtah's current project mix. The SURE Sites team is currently reviewing all of the questions it asks about individual sites to ensure the information is relevant to their primary users.
"Site selectors are really in the site elimination business," Flynn continues, "so the challenge we face in developing the new SURE Sites database is striking the delicate balance between providing enough information to get us on the list without providing so much information that we prematurely get eliminated from searches." Furthermore, it is essential to identify tier-one questions for each property that are structured so the answers can be gathered quickly and updated easily and efficiently. The objective is to establish a robust set of properties in the database that are representative of the entire state.
The SURE Sites idea was first floated after Gov. Jon Huntsman was elected in 2004 and the database was developed with the financial support of the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED) and Rocky Mountain Power. Over the years, the program has proven to be a valuable tool because site selection decisions are made at ever faster speeds. In fact, SURE Sites put Utah ahead of the competition for a time and leveled the playing field for both rural and urban properties, presenting customizable data and maps that depict property details, transportation corridors, available utilities and population sectors – everything a site selector would have wanted to see.
"Site selectors could analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a property in a matter of minutes, rather than waiting days and weeks to receive hard-copy data from local economic developers," says Flynn. "Given the accelerated economic development dynamics and global competition, the SURE Sites program has enhanced EDCUtah's ability to quickly showcase properties from across the entire state. It's also been a good sister platform to locate.utah.gov."
In redesigning the SURE Sites program, the goal is to develop a tool that can evolve to meet the changing environment of economic development. Flynn says there is a new trend in different parts of the country to develop what are called certified "megasites" in order to more effectively compete for large, landmark projects: deals that regularly create more than 1,000 jobs, require 1,000 or more acres of property and involve billion-dollar capital investments.
"Megasite programs have existed in markets in the southeast and midwest for years," Flynn explains. "These locations saw the opportunity that these large deals created and realized that even if they only succeeded in winning a landmark project every 4-5 years, the return on that win would be so large that it made the investment worthwhile. In my opinion, megasites are the natural evolution of our certified SURE Sites program, but on a grander scale than our current program. Currently, we gather basic property, infrastructure and demographic information that can be used in our corresponding economic development projects and marketing efforts, but that approach is, by design, a mile wide and an inch deep. In developing a megasite program, the focus becomes an inch wide and a mile deep."
The megasites process involves selecting multiple sites across the state that have 1,000 acres or more of available land and then analyzing those sites at a very granular level. "We want to know as much as is humanly possible about these large tracts of land and develop comprehensive marketing packages on their strengths and weaknesses," Flynn explains. "In theory, we would like to answer every question about a property from 100 feet below the surface to everything above it and around it in a 500-mile radius: geotechnical, environmental, engineering, infrastructure, suppliers, transportation, population, available workforce, education – everything."
Flynn adds, "We feel like Utah's economic environment is perfect for a megasites strategy. We have the available land and I believe we would have the support of our developers and commercial real estate industry. I would love to see our SURE Sites program evolve into a megasites program, where we strategically target landmark projects and invest in a plan to market our megasites globally. I think it is the next generation of the EDCUtah SURE Sites program."