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Team NEO is Trying to Bolster Listing Info for Available Buildings, Land

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To put the region and the state in the running for more manufacturing expansions, Team Northeast Ohio, the business attraction and retention group that serves an 18-county region, and JobsOhio, the state’s business attraction nonprofit, are developing plans to get a better handle on the inventory of available buildings and vacant land that would be attractive to companies looking to establish new operations.

Team NEO hopes to get all of the operators of property databases in the region’s cities and counties to improve the accuracy and depth of information available for each site. It then wants to put each database onto compatible software so they can be consolidated into a single site that national site selectors can use.

That data, in turn, will be fed into the site database of JobsOhio, once new data software is up and running.

These moves are precipitated by a shrinking inventory of available properties and the realization that what information is available often is not sufficient to meet the needs of site selectors. The information typically is on websites scattered across the region and the state, making it more difficult for site selectors to find.

“There is a regionwide push to get better data on sites,” said Jacob Duritsky, Team NEO’s vice president for strategy and research. “Of all the listings we researched, only 43% of the sites have adequate information. For the rest, there’s not enough information.”

The site selection consultants hired by businesses looking for a new location often start their searches with the online site inventories in the databases of cities, states and regional economic development organizations.

If a site selector tries to match a list of criteria important to the client — say the client is looking for an existing industrial building with a 50,000-square-foot shop floor and 50,000 square feet of warehouse space close to a freeway — against these databases and he or she passes over a qualified property because the web listing (but not the property itself) is missing one or two of those criteria, a community won’t be considered for the expansion.

And the more small websites the consultant has to wade through in a particular region, the more likely he or she is to miss a qualified site.

James Robey, director of regional economic and planning services at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich., and a former Team NEO research director, lauded Team NEO’s effort at consolidation.

“You have to be proactive,” he said.

“Having the scale (of a web database that covers 18 counties) is incredibly important,” Robey added. “Available buildings and even dirt are hard to find. The ability to search at a single point of contact is really important.”

Robert Garber, a principal at CRESCO Real Estate, an Independence-based commercial and industrial real estate brokerage, agreed.

“Nobody is really tracking in a really good fashion, in one database, what’s out there, especially on the outskirts,” Garber said.

If a site selector were to ask Garber for possible sites in Cuyahoga County or adjacent communities like Twinsburg or Macedonia, he said he could be confident of finding 19 or 20 sites that met the consultant’s criteria.

“But if somebody came into town and said, ‘I could (locate the operation) in Cuyahoga County or Summit County or Trumbull County,’ there is no way I could get the information from one source,” Garber said.

He added that too often, existing database listings lack important information, such as what the property’s zoning is, or whether a company would have to pay to run a natural gas line to a piece of vacant land. Those details might be important to a business making a location decision.

“The site thing is really important for Ashtabula County’s future competitiveness,” said Don Iannone, CEO of the Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County, that county’s economic development arm. “The whole issue for rural Ohio is making sure you have basic information.”

The fragmentation also makes it hard for real estate brokers, who submit their available properties to the website inventories, to make sure their listings are showing up with complete information.

“Here I am, at any one point in time I may have 500 to 600 active listings,” said David Browning, Cleveland managing director of the CBRE brokerage.

“There are probably a dozen different websites that I need to be thinking about,” he said. “And what happens when the information changes and I end up not controlling what’s out there on the internet about some of my properties? It’s a crazy, dysfunctional situation.”

A slide show being used by Team NEO succinctly makes the case for getting every organization in the region with a website on the page to participate.

“We are losing opportunities and/or not being considered for projects due to incomplete information and inadequate site inventory,” one slide states. “We can develop a competitive advantage through the strategic assembly of industrial sites.”

JobsOhio is thinking along the same lines.

It, too, has a site inventory on its website. Its database gets listings from about 2,000 sources, said Kristi Clouse, JobsOhio’s executive director of operations. Those listings come from real estate brokers, utility companies and economic development organizations, including Team NEO, which is one of six regional partners in JobsOhio’s network.

Klouse said JobsOhio has contracted with GIS Planning Inc., a San Francisco database software firm, to use its software for JobsOhio’s property inventory. Local economic development organizations will be able to have what she described as a “local viewer” on their websites. The cost of that will be paid for by JobsOhio.

Christine Nelson, Team NEO vice president of project management and site selection, said Team NEO will be the administrator of the site inventory for Northeast Ohio.

“As such, we will work with the communities to ensure quality data and submit appropriate properties for site selection opportunities,” she said.

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