Site selector notes RR development needs

From left, SEA representatives Steve Jenkins, Tiffany Avery and Mikayla Standefer, and Senior Principal site selector Mark Sweeney pose for a picture outside of the SEA headquarters in Rio Rancho.

Rio Rancho will be left behind in economic develop if it doesn’t find a way to get infrastructure in place for companies quickly, a well-respected site selector warned recently.

Senior Principal site selector Mark Sweeney with McCallum Sweeney, a global location consulting firm in South Carolina, revealed his real-world point of view on what Rio Rancho needs to do to become more attractive for new business at the Sandoval Economic Alliance headquarters earlier this month.

Sweeney has a resume that includes finding sites for companies like Amazon and BMW.

Recently, the Sandoval Economic Alliance invited him to look at Rio Rancho and give recommendations on how to be competitive in the site-selecting process.

“It’s important to understand that where a company locates its facility impacts its profitability,” Sweeney said. “That’s why site selection is an important part of the capital investment decision.”

He also said it is important that a community stay competitive when it comes to site selection to continue to attract potential businesses.

“There are two things that a community needs to do,” he said. “First, a community needs to be prepared with all of the assets that a company likes to evaluate when they go to an area. Second, the community needs to be competitive in that preparation.”

According to Sweeney, a community cannot prepare for companies to look at the area in a vacuum.

“If a company is talking about locating to Rio Rancho, it is also talking to other areas as well,” he said.

Sweeney said the site-selection process goes through a series of decisions before a company chooses its desired area to open a new facility.

“The issue Rio Rancho is facing is in its industrial areas,” Sweeney said.

A site selector will ask about quantity, capacity and schedule, he said.

“Most of our clients do not have to have the infrastructure in place before they select a location; however, if it’s not in place, the community has to show us how long it will take and how much it would cost,” he said.

An area’s schedule is a critical screening criterion site selectors look at, he said, and Rio Rancho faces the challenge of making infrastructure available in a timely matter for industry.

“While there is a lot of open ground and dirt, there’s not a lot of sites in terms of property that can be effectively served,” Sweeney said.

A recent example, he said, of the city’s timeline to produce infrastructure for an interested company was 18 to 24 months.

“There are no projects to speak of that can wait 18 to 24 months for infrastructure,” Sweeney said. “That is going to be a problem that will be consistent with every opportunity the city gets, unless you are looking at a small piece of property that already has infrastructure in the ground. But, for a major new industrial prospect … for a hundred or a few hundred jobs, it won’t happen.”

This fundamental challenge will impact almost every opportunity for major outside industrial prospects, he said.

Sweeney offered a solution, saying that having infrastructure in place in the areas targeted for industrial development could be a way of avoiding the timeline issue.

“That appears to be the top-of-the-line challenge for this community,” Sweeney said. “I’m not saying, ‘Invest in infrastructure and site selectors will choose you.’ After all, this is a gamble. All I am saying is having a few select sites ready to go within a 12- to six-month time frame will make Rio Rancho that much more competitive.”

There is no point for a site selector, he said, to look at an area that doesn’t meet initial screening needs.

“So what’s going to happen is Rio Rancho will apply, showing site selectors all of the available space it has, but won’t be able to have the site ready in a year’s timeframe,” he said. “That alone will cut Rio Rancho out of the game.”

Because of this one area, he said, all of the other advantages Rio Rancho has will not come into play.

He said he studied the area over a few days, putting his site-selector hat on to point to possible problem areas.

“There is a lot going for Rio Rancho, don’t get me wrong; all I am saying is not having available infrastructure for bigger business will affect new sites looking at the area,” Sweeney said.