Bradenton area can compete on critical factors for site selection

Anyone in business knows it is vital to understand your potential customers' needs. In the business of economic development, we have the same challenge. We need to understand the hot buttons for executives making decisions about where companies will locate their facilities, and evaluate how the Bradenton area measures up.

Can we deliver on companies' site location requirements? If so, how can we better communicate the Bradenton area's assets to companies in the types of industries that best fit with our region? If not, do we need to work with the community to make changes?

One annual survey we examine to assist in this economic development market research is produced by Area Development, a publication that focuses on corporate relocation and expansion in the United States.

The magazine surveys corporate real estate decision-makers about the critical factors in their location decisions. The Top 10 factors rarely change dramatically, although the priorities assigned among them may shift over time.

Reviewing the 2014 study, we can argue a fairly strong case for the Bradenton area. If we aren't ideally situated to deliver on a critical factor today, we are working diligently on being competitive and can show a strong track record of businesses that are continuing to grow after locating here in recent years.

Looking in particular at the top four critical factors for site selection, the Bradenton area is coming into its own as a competitive location for growing businesses.

Availability of skilled labor tops the list. Our region has been laser-focused on improving the skilled labor pool -- particularly for advanced manufacturing -- for several years. The efforts are paying off, as evidenced by Air Products' locating a major facility near Port Manatee. While we didn't have a ready labor pool that fit the company's specific requirements, a partnership between Air Products and Manatee Technical College is producing the skilled employees needed.

Highway accessibility for connections between suppliers and markets is the second most critical factor. The Bradenton area delivers on that count with interstate access to reach suppliers and consumers in the Tampa Bay region and the Southeast. Port Manatee and prox

imity to multiple international airports provide important national and international connections, and provide a transmodal network that is the envy of many other communities.

Cost of labor is third on the list. Always a concern for businesses, the issue of labor cost has declined from the top spot as employers require higher skills to meet the needs of advanced automation and technology in the workplace. Higher skills demand higher wages, but the greater efficiency and productivity that result can mean more profitability for a business.

Costs of occupancy and construction come in fourth. Compared with other desirable locations, the Bradenton area competes well in this category, particularly when qualified companies can save time and money through rapid response permitting during construction or renovations. This program, offered by Manatee County government, has helped numerous businesses get up and running more quickly, which saves on carrying costs and allows companies to produce revenue sooner.

In these factors, as in the others on the list, the Bradenton area still can improve. Understanding the priorities of decision-makers selecting locations for businesses is the first step in being competitive on attracting the jobs and capital investment that will make our local economy more diverse and sustainable.

Sharon Hillstrom, president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., can be reached at or 803-9035.