The site selection process can be complicated and costly—and many companies can use all the help they can get. Thankfully, local economic development corporations can offer incentives and assistance to new businesses entering their community. But in some places, such as Raleigh, North Carolina, and Bloomington, Indiana, the local utility companies are taking it a step forward by “energizing” the economic development process through abatements and incentives to incoming businesses. The best part about it: the utility company goodies are in addition to the incentives provided by local economic development agencies.
We spoke to Brenda Daniels, manager of Economic Development for Raleigh-based ElectriCities of North Carolina, and Jeremy Sowders, Economic Development coordinator at Hoosier Energy in Bloomington, about how their utility companies are going the extra mile for incoming businesses.
Global Trade: How is your company prepared with the necessary tools and resources, beyond infrastructure, to help companies think holistically about their needs?
Sowders: First, our team has a lot of experience–about 100 years of combined experience in economic development between all of us that runs the whole gamut through local, regional and state. So, we have lots of experience and knowledge working for us.
We probably work more often with state and local economic development partners. On the business side, we have lots of tools available to help businesses to price things out such as an abatement estimator, and a tool that can help them see what things cost in Illinois and Indiana. We even have a workman’s comp estimator. The tools we built provide quite a holistic view for a company to make a site location decision, because we don’t want a company to make a wrong decision.
Daniels: We approach it to look at it from their side of the table. We discuss what they need to look at when considering a site location. Once we’ve put everything on the table, then we narrow down the site or building that fits their needs.
How are utility companies playing a role in site visit coordination with the company?
Sowders: In most cases, we play a subordinate role to our state partners. We will work closely to make sure infrastructure information is readily available with schematics lay out, and that engineering is on standby, so companies can make decisions quickly.
On some occasions we do our own lead generation if we’re out on the forefront with businesses. We do our best to listen to their needs, help them identify sites, help them do what they do–either way we try to serve the company to the best of our ability and meet their individual needs.
Daniels: We have a “soft landing package” where we do everything for them before they arrive. We make out the itinerary with the necessary appointments and review it with them prior to them arriving. We pick them up at the airport and transport them to their hotel of which we reserve all rooms for them. We have the initial meeting and discussion about the upcoming itinerary for the next day or two.
We schedule all visits with the county developers and/or cities and towns that they will be visiting. Once the visit is complete, we take them back to the airport for their flights.
Regarding a huge site selection factor of energy availability, how is your company positioned to understand how company operations would impact existing service infrastructure? Can you provide resources to meet specific energy needs on the timeline needed?
Sowders: We have a strong team of engineers who work in power supply and delivery. The minute we understand a company’s power needs, we can serve them. We can usually turn that information around in about 24 hours.
We’re uniquely equipped to be attractive to companies. We have an economic development rider (EDR) that we can offer our companies for the first six years they are in business, which is a phase-in of their full electric bill. It starts at a 30 percent discount and the discount decreases by five percent each year until they are paying full price. It averages to a savings of about 17 percent for the first six years.
We also have a different model and make-up than most utilities. We can be more flexible with our rate structure. We can talk to a company one-on-one and adjust the rate according to their needs to better fit their budget.
Daniels: We work closely with all of our communities and discuss the project with them prior to the site visit. If a large 10 MW customer is looking, for example, we make sure that the community is prepared for this into their substation. If a new substation needs to be constructed, all of the information is available during the visit so that they can discuss everything. We know pretty much ahead of the visit if the community’s infrastructure can handle the project.
Ultimately, our goal is to help the company make the right decision for their business. Not all will come to our service decision, but we believe doing the right thing will pay in the long run.
Economic development partnerships like the ones between ElectriCities and Hoosier Energy and their respective economic development councils don’t just benefit the business, but the entire community. Offers of incentives and savings give incoming businesses fewer things to worry about, allowing them to focus on creating jobs and operations.