SiteLink conference brings major growth potential


SiteLink conference brings major growth potential

Tim Femster of Foremost Quality Logistics stands in front of a crane at the Port of Brownsville. Femster was one of seven site selectors who spoke at the SiteLink Forum at South Padre Island (Contributed)
Tim Femster of Foremost Quality Logistics stands in front of a crane at the Port of Brownsville. Femster was one of seven site selectors who spoke at the SiteLink Forum at South Padre Island (Contributed)

Conference builds relationship between RGV and site selectors

Site selectors are a group of experts who provide location strategy to corporations. They work across the globe and for every industry, sector and function. According to Rio South Texas Executive Director Matt Ruszczak, they are like “commercial real estate agents on steroids.”

There are only a limited number of professional site selectors, according to Paige Webster, less than 300. Their role is to help companies determining the best communities and properties for future relocation or expansion. “A major corporation will decide they want to grow or expand and then hire site selection professionals to help determine where they will go to grow,” Ruszczak said. “They give them key criteria and they will go out and analyze and go through all the data and identify the best communities to locate, or relocate.”

Needless to say (but we are going to say it), developing a relationship with a qualified site selector is critical when it comes to economic development. Webster runs an organization called SiteLink that, according to its website “convenes experienced site selectors and industry leaders in economic development to connect, provide insight and share expertise to improve your community’s strategic position in the noisy landscape of economic development today.”

Webster creates weekend-long conferences where there’s the potential of a marriage of sorts, between these high-in-demand site selectors and the area’s economic development experts. He brings seven selectors, each with a specific industry expertise chosen for the region the conference is taking place. Forty-two South Texas developers attended a recent SiteLink conference at South Padre Island, sponsored by RSTEC, to listen to Webster, a generalist selector and other site selectors.

“The collaboration efforts were excellent and the selectors learned about South Texas,” Webster said. “This is all about building relationship. The local people made us aware of what’s going on in South Texas. The perceptions of a border war are not real. For people who read the newspapers, it’s a war zone.”

Working together as a region

Ruszczak said RSTEC is all about promoting its members, which include many of the local economic development councils and other economic developers. He said the organization is about promoting the region as a whole, putting the area on a higher level when it comes to attracting major companies.

“Our purpose is to promote our region as a whole to the outside world for investment,” Ruszczak said. “We had these site selectors come to build a relationship, we will attend trade shows, whatever we need to do to increase the awareness of the RGV region and develop relationships that will help us compete on a higher level playing field and become a market that the major corporations will consider.

A group of site selectors stand in front of GE Aviation in McAllen. The group was given an all-day tour of the Valley from Brownsville to Anzalduas Park and more.
A group of site selectors stand in front of GE Aviation in McAllen. The group was given an all-day tour of the Valley from Brownsville to Anzalduas Park and more.

“Brownsville would be better off if a major company landed in Harlingen than if it landed in Colorado. We are all about collaborating to increase the strength of the Rio Grande Valley.”

The site selectors who attended the SPI SiteLink Forum included experts on trade, auto manufacturing, travel logistics and call centers, among others. They took an extensive tour of the Valley, many times having eye-opening experiences.

“We took them to Anzalduas Park right along the border,” Ruszczak said. “On the U.S. side there were families grilling out, playing catch and having a good time. Then you looked across the border into Mexico and families were grilling out, playing catch and having a good time. It definitely opened a lot of eyes.”

Following through the process

In essence what RSTEC does is give its members a head start. While EDCs and other developers are good at recruiting companies from start to finish – the initial phone call to “That full timeline that can be very long, from 18 to 24 months, some may take 10 years a longer,” Ruszczak said.  “There’s a critical point along there when somebody makes a trip. Once they take that visit it becomes the sales job on a local level. Everything up to this point is relationship and general marketing. RSTEC exists to help amplify the first part from the initial contact to the site visit.”

Webster said after the visits are made and the tours are all done and the selectors head to their homes all over the country, now it becomes the local economic developers’ responsibilities to continue the relationship all the way to the finale – that ribbon cutting. He added that the McAllen EDC has already continued to build on relationships created during the forum and some of the site selectors will be returning to not only look at McAllen again, but also Reynosa.

“Once the site selectors have left it’s up to the local economic developers to reach out and continue the conversations,” said Webster, whose next site link conference is in Detroit in June. “I believe South Texas did the most media relations about the conference, that’s really key because they got the word out to the general public. Pharr, Texas was not a member of RESTEC but they are now.

“There was a lot of eye-opening information and because we were there, we could use more than just what we read or see from TV – we could get personal with the area,” Webster said. “We learned about the crossings – 35,000 vehicles back and forth – it made us realize that it’s a regional economy that includes Mexico. Plus you have the Winter Texans, spring break … it’s a whole another economy not to mention the maquiladoras and cross commerce that’s going on.”

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Has been a writer/editor for more than 25 years. Was a syndicated writer for more than 130 newspapers and talent for 40 radio stations covering NASCAR during its heyday. Covered the 1996 Olympics for Thomson Newspapers. Has won more than 30 local, state and national writing and photography awards. Earned a communications degree from the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio and an MBA from UTRGV. Teaches business classes for Wayland Baptist University. Covered stories including the blackout of the Northeast, Dale Earnhardt's death, the murder of Michael Jordan's dad and many other stories. A native of New York, he lives in McAllen with his 12-year-old daughter Camilla. He enjoys being a motivational speaker, playing sports, reading, cooking, coaching volleyball and, most of all, being with his 13-year-old daughter daughter Camilla, a volleyball and track star, and straight A student. He is also the youth director at his church, Christian Fellowship Church in McAllen.