I had lunch this past week with a friend who, like me, is an all-knowing, sage-like consultant. (Actually, he is a very humble and nice man and does not view himself as a guru of sorts. Notice that I did not say that about myself.)
We periodically get together at a barbecue joint, because we enjoy each other’s company and like to talk shop and compare notes. And because he is a friend, I can run ideas by him without fear of contempt and ridicule. He will kindly review and provide valuable input on some of my PowerPoint presentations before I give them to assembled groups of economic developers or prospective corporate customers.
“Dean, you cannot tell folks to stockpile food and ammunition for the coming Armageddon. That just won’t fly.”
“Yea, you’re probably right, but can I at least keep the slide about growing your own food and learning Mandarin Chinese?”
If it makes any difference, I’ll mention none of this when I speak later this month at the annual meeting of the Arkansas Economic Developers. For the record, my topic will be business retention and expansion. On the advice of my astute friend, I never once spoke about how to best deal with zombie outbreaks during my presentations earlier this year at the Texas Economic Development Council and the Florida Economic Development Council.
(But I will tell you that zombies will devastate your local business climate as you cannot reason with them. Now you can take that to the bank.)
But back to my lunch with my consultant friend. After we pigged out on smoked meat, he gave me a thumb drive that included a presentation of his own that he gave at a recent conference of economic developers. As I had my laptop with me, we took a look at it together. I think he wanted my input.
As I knew would be the case, my friend’s presentation was very insightful and topnotch. It included his rather sophisticated thoughts on how the site selection process, an area of great interest for both of us, should ideally work for a corporate client, with an emphasis on the importance of logistics in relation to customers and suppliers.
His presentation was so good, in fact, that I told him that I wanted to steal some of his ideas, to which he smiled and said, “Just give me credit where credit is due,” which was the right thing to say. That’s what I would have said, even if I have no clue where most of my ideas came from. Sometimes, they just sort of percolate up in me.
I do know that in our many meals together, we have talked a great deal about the proper ingredients that should go into that gumbo stew that we call site selection. It is not clear to me if I influenced him or he has influenced me. Probably both, as we seem to agree that a whole host of business factors rather than incentives should be of primary concern.
So my future graphic on my future PowerPoint slide may show a gumbo pot with all these different ingredients to be thrown into the mix. (Unless, of course, he tells me it’s a bad idea.)
Also, this past week, I got a message from an acquaintance that had just joined a consulting firm, which advertises site selection as a primary function. He is a tax accountant by training, and, not surprising, the tax implications and incentive negotiations in regard to taxes are his chief bailiwick and that of his firm. I suspect that he is very good at what he does, but I do wonder if he delves deeply into the other. Maybe he does. I just never heard him mention anything other than taxes.
I have also spent a good amount of time with a very nice fellow who I will call Fred. Fred doesn’t hold himself out to be a site selection consultant per se, but his commercial real estate firm calls it a specialty area. Not surprisingly, the emphasis is real estate and making transactions happen on a building or a piece of dirt, of which Fred gets a commission.
There is no doubt in my mind that Fred is accomplished at what he does, but I’m not so sure if he focuses much on any factors beyond real estate in his work. His experience has been making real estate deals happen, which is all very good, but he lacks a depth of knowledge in other site selection considerations, like workforce, logistics and transportation, utilities, taxes, and on and on.
Certainly, what has become clear to me over the years is that you can choose some very nice, attractive real estate in a very wrong location, which can and will come back to bite you. And while real estate itself typically does not figure in as a major cost factor in the lifespan of a business operation, picking real estate in the wrong place can have you paying out the nose for years in terms of higher and sometimes unexpected operational costs.
Now I do not hold myself up to being the all-knowing Poobah on what constitutes everything that is right and everything that is wrong with site selection consulting. I can tell you that it is a rather fractured arena populated by some veterans who provide great service and by some wannabees who really don’t have a clue. I guess that is probably true with just about every profession and craft. You live and learn.
Some consultants, such as the ones that I have mentioned, have focused areas of expertise, where they really know their stuff, whether it be taxes or real estate or logistics. As I prefer a more holistic approach to site selection, I like to put together special ops teams, in which I can bring in highly-knowledgeable specialists to perform their needed function or job, depending on the needs of the client company.
The fact is that nobody knows it all, so assembling a team on a project-by -project basis makes a lot of sense for everyone concerned.
But recently, I got thrown a curve ball, from a person who thought (erroneously) that I did know it all. You see, I got this phone call from a fellow in New York, who apparently had some decent corporate contacts and had dabbled in commercial real estate. In short, he wanted me to give him the skinny on how he, too, could become a bona fide site selection consultant.
I was kind of flabbergasted and stumped at the same time, as the question just struck me as being so naïve. You have heard the old saying, “that that there is no such thing as a stupid question.” Well, I beg differ. I have asked many a stupid question in my life (I was a newspaperman for 20 years), and I have received more than a few myself.
But you try to be gracious. I attempted to explain that what he was asking about was what I saw as a long journey that could rightfully takes years of experience to develop, with a laser-like focus of providing true value to a client. I am certain that my answer sounded muddled at best. I could only imagine someone else asking the same of a brain surgeon.
Respondent: Hello, this is Dr. Smartso.
Caller: Dr. Smartso, my name is Henry Driftless, and I wanted to ask you how to become a brain surgeon.
Caller: You are Julius Smartso, the world famous brain surgeon who transplanted a hamster’s brain into a U.S. Congressman’s head?
Respondent: Well, yes.
Caller: Good, so I was hoping you would tell me how I might go about becoming a brain surgeon. I’m pretty good with my hands.
Respondent: This is a joke, right?
To be sure, site selection consulting is not brain surgery, but it does entail specialized knowledge that comes with experience about how certain things are and how certain things work. Having some interest and insight in manufacturing has certainly provided me somewhat of an advantage, but I do not know if there is a single pathway to becoming the all-knowing, sage-like consultant.
As with most things, you learn by doing it, gaining knowledge by working intimately with companies and understanding the drivers involved. The way I see it, with my background and experience, if I do my job right, I should be able to save a company millions of dollars in finding the right fitting place. (Which is the primary reason why most companies shouldn’t go it alone. Kids, don’t try this at home!)
I’m not Dr. Smartso, but I might be smart enough to know that there are times when quick and simple answers just do not suffice. I stumbled with that phone call from the fellow from New York. So how do I do site selection?
Well, I focus on the goal – taking them (my corporate clients) where they need to be in an honest and objective manner based on detailed and weighted criteria that I work out with them. That is not an easy thing to do in any economic environment, but luckily, I can then focus on the details with the help of some very talented people with specialized knowledge, who understand how things are and how they can work.
Again, forming these special ops teams (which may be a trend in many consulting fields) makes a great deal of sense for site selection and economic development consulting work, because nobody knows it all. Anybody who claims they do, watch out and grab your wallet.
And that’s no joke. Now, I got to find that business card for the man who specializes in zombie eradication. I got a community that needs help.
Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com