Site Selection and Cinema 2016

EDCUtahLogoTake a group of five site selectors from the East Coast, the Midwest and California and put them on a gondola ride to the top of Snow Basin ski resort and what do you get? Shock and awe – in a good way. The view from 9,000 feet is as awe-inspiring as the 3,000 vertical feet of ski terrain is stunning.

The visit to Snow Basin’s Needles Lodge by the site selectors was just one stop on EDCUtah’s annual Sundance Site Selector Event, which ran Wednesday through Sunday during the last week of January. The event is much more than four days of wining and dining. Rather, EDCUtah packs a year of work into experiences that engage the site selectors in all that is Utah: its flavor, culture, business environment, government and business leadership, stunning landscape and world-class quality of life.

“In the process, we hope to erase any preconceived notions the site selectors might have about the state and replace them with the facts,” says EDCUtah President and CEO Jeff Edwards.

EDCUtah has been conducting the site selector events for about a decade. In the early years, the events typically involved skiing at Deer Valley. One year EDCUtah took a group of site selectors on a tour of southern Utah and hiking in Zion National Park. “We found that not everyone likes to ski, and not everyone likes to hike, but nearly everyone likes to see movies, so we moved the event to capitalize on the strength and notoriety of the Sundance Film Festival,” adds Michael Flynn, EDCUtah’s chief marketing officer.

More than half of EDCUtah’s projects come with site consultants attached to them, as do the majority of the A+ projects – the headquarter deals, the large capital investments and the deals involving large numbers of jobs.

“The site consultants are a very influential group,” says Edwards. “It is important for us to remain top of mind with them and our site selector event is the single most effective way we can build relationships. By the end of the event we’ve made four or five new friends, educated them about Utah and gathered valuable information to improve our economic development approach.”

The annual site selector event follows a proven model, but it is a heavily logistical operation to bring five site consultants together from across the country, engage them in some recreation, introduce them to Utah companies, real estate people, stakeholders and government leaders and do it through various tours, dinners, breakfasts and roundtable discussions. “We try to strike a balance so they get enough exposure to the Utah business environment while also allowing them to have a fun weekend,” says Edwards. “Our objective is to have everything be topnotch, so they walk away with an outstanding experience.”

The event always includes a kickoff breakfast with the EDCUtah team and representatives from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). Since the consultants don’t typically know each other, the next step is an introductory activity. This year the group participated in a curling lesson and competition at the Olympic Oval in Kearns. After a 20-minute curling lesson it was game on. The consultants and EDCUtah business developers teamed up and competed in a curling match. “That got everyone working together and by the end of the two-hour match everyone was pretty comfortable with each other,” says Flynn.

The connection with EDCUtah’s business development team is critical, adds Edwards. “We want the site selectors to get to know our team. If we can increase that comfort level and familiarity, they’ll have greater confidence in bringing their clients to the state.”

The site selectors next received a tour of Northern Utah, including the gondola ride to the top of Snow Basin, a tour of Ogden, a visit to the Amer Sports facility and dinner on Historic 25th Street, which was hosted by Ogden City. A representative from Amer Sports talked about the company’s move to Utah and what it is like to operate from the state. During dinner, Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell spoke to the site selectors about Ogden’s outdoor recreation industry and the group was able to engage with representatives from some of the outdoor recreation companies.

Afterward, one site selector commented that he had never heard of Ogden or its outdoor recreation industry, but he could envision bringing a business there. “To us, that summarizes why we do site selector events,” says Flynn. “It was one of many happy moments on our end.”

Next came an industry day. The site selectors toured the Adobe facility in Lehi, Boeing’s high-tech manufacturing facility in West Jordan, visited the Goldman Sachs office in downtown Salt Lake City and toured the new office tower Okland Construction is building at 111 South Main. At each respective stop the consultants learned how Adobe, Boeing and Goldman Sachs have expanded their operations in Utah, why each of the companies is here, the success they are having, and how the business-friendly environment has assisted in their respective growth.

Focus group sessions are also an integral part of each site selection event. Edwards says this year EDCUtah did something new, holding one of the focus group sessions at the Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City. Since many of the site selectors deal with real estate, it was prime opportunity to give them a tour of the Gateway, explain its history and potential transition now that the City Creek Center is in full swing and competes heavily for retail tenants. Flynn says one of the focus group conversations explored the possibility of the Gateway evolving into more of a mixed-use development with a much larger office or business incubator component.

“We wanted their feedback on what opportunities they see for the Gateway development and asked them to draw on their experiences from other markets and similar transitions,” Flynn continues. “Jason Mathis, the executive director of the Downtown Alliance, joined us and we were able to leverage the knowledge of this group of world-class experts. It proved to be very valuable. We received excellent feedback, including some suggestions and case studies to look at.”

At the end of the day, the site selectors unwound at the Rose Wagner Theater for a Sundance film screening. They were joined by leaders from the Utah Film Commission and concluded the evening with a wonderful dinner hosted by Big D Construction. During dinner, Big D Senior Vice President Cory Moore described his company’s activity in the construction industry and its expertise in the food manufacturing industry. This was strategic, says Flynn, because one of the site consultants is primarily focused on food facility expansion and relocation. “We saw this as an opportunity to facilitate another key relationship,” he adds.

On Saturday, intermixed between film screenings and stargazing on Main Street in Park City, the site selectors spent time with Utah’s chief marketer, Gov. Gary Herbert, along with GOED Executive Director Val Hale, GOED board members and other key stakeholders. Okland Construction also hosted a dinner for the site selectors at the Park City Film Studios, where the group learned about the company’s broad construction expertise.

On Sunday, for its final focus group session, EDCUtah put the site selectors in front of a video camera and ask them questions about areas EDCUtah could improve on in its economic development efforts. “This is our best chance to get some unvarnished feedback on what we’re doing and how well we’re doing it,” says Todd Brightwell, EDCUtah’s chief operating officer. “We encourage them to be completely transparent and honest with their critique because we know it’s the best way for us to improve our efforts.”

“We want critical feedback,” notes Flynn. “Ninety-five percent of what we heard was really positive, but we received some good comments on things we should leverage a little more, along with some marketing ideas and adjustments we can make. These nuggets are valuable as we plan future site selection events and marketing efforts.”

Edwards adds, “At the end of the day, the goal for these events is to (a) generate a new project in the future and (b) learn something new that can help us win projects we are currently working on. The site selector events are a tremendous amount of work, but we know they are worth the effort.”

The site selector event would not be possible without the support of EDCUtah’s many partners. “We’d like to extend a special thanks to Gov. Gary Herbert, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Ogden City, Adobe, the Downtown Alliance, Big-D Construction, CBRE, Cache County, Okland Construction, All Resort Group, Amer Sports, Boeing, Copper Nickel, Cotopaxi, Cuisine Unlimited, Delta Air Lines, Goldman Sachs, the Grand America, Graymatter Advertising, Great Harvest Bread Company, Le Bus, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Park City Film Studios, Park City Museum, Regence, Snowbasin Ski Resort, Solomon Center, Westminster College, Utah Film Commission, Utah Olympic Oval, Valter’s Osteria and ViDi Camera,” says Edwards.