Location Consultant: Southeast Well Positioned for FDI

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Over $1.1 trillion in foreign direct investment (FDI) flowed through the global economy in 2010 according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Much of that came into U.S. regions from around the world. Given the presence of a deepwater port, along with large chemical and consumer-foods industry clusters, Southeastern North Carolina is well-positioned to draw a healthy share of FDI. Such is the conclusion drawn by a major site selection consultant.

Will Hearn, a Raleigh-based location expert with the firm of CH2M Hill, briefed North Carolina’s Southeast’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on trends in FDI and offered insight into how the Southeast Region might draw more of it. Though patterns are shifting, the U.S. remains the world’s largest single destination for FDI, due to its productive workforce and large consumer markets, Hearn said. “But we’re seeing the globalization of FDI,” with investment capital moving freely in all directions, Mr. Hearn said. Food processing and advanced technology were two areas wherein he sees American communities luring FDI dollars. “We have enormous advantages there,” he said. Other “industries to watch” are industrial bio-chemicals, food additives, and the manufacture of electric and hybrid/electric automobiles.

Mr. Hearn, who operates globally and is now handling major industrial projects in Brazil, China, Germany and the U.S., reviewed the process by which his firm matches clients’ business objectives to viable locations. Workforce availability is increasingly a key criterion in current site searches, he said. “The biggest issue facing the economic development profession is the availability of qualified labor.” When comparing global business destinations, companies seek to balance “risks versus costs.” In his survey of assets and advantages of Southeastern North Carolina, Mr. Hearn found potential in the presence of major chemical manufacturers and the Port of Wilmington. He is witnessing more and more chemical companies “co-locating” in order to tap unused infrastructure capacity. Mr. Hearn said his clients now prefer to lease their facilities, an option that affords them greater flexibility. “None of my clients want to own any assets,” he said.