What’s the Deal with Certified Sites?

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Jonathan Morgan

Jonathan Morgan is a School of Government faculty member.

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Local officials and economic developers increasingly seek to have certain industrial sites designated as “certified”. But what does that mean exactly? What does the process of getting an industrial site certified entail? Who does the certification? What difference, if any, does certification make?

A certified industrial site is one that has undergone a thorough pre-qualification process to determine how ready the site is for development. While the specific site readiness criteria may vary from program to program, they typically address the following:

• Land survey with clearly defined property boundaries
• Evidence of clear title and deed
• Water and sewer capacity
• Transportation access
• Sales price for property
• Buildable acres information
• Development constraints related to easements, right-of-ways, judgments, liens, restrictive covenants, etc.
• Environmental assessment (Phase 1)
• Wetlands determination and mitigation
• Soil assessment
• Development plan
• Flood plain map
• Zoning information
• Electric and gas utilities
• Telecommunications infrastructure

This lengthy checklist represents an extensive review process that will take some time and resources to complete. The idea is that putting a site through this certification process will demonstrate that it is more “shovel ready” than other possible sites that are not formally certified. Site certification can benefit economic development professionals by providing them with an inventory of pre-qualified industrial sites for which accurate and detailed information is readily available to share with prospective businesses. This makes it easier to pitch certain industrial sites and match them to the specific needs and site requirements of a project. An obvious advantage to a prospective business are the reductions in costs and time made possible due to an expedited site search. An article in Area Development makes this point and illustrates how certified sites decrease uncertainty and can serve as a significant incentive for businesses. The certification process also enables companies to compare and assess multiple sites using standardized site readiness criteria. (See this earlier post for a discussion of the role of certification in the assembling of industrial “mega sites”.)

Many states have site certification programs in place. Some use staff experts to conduct the site assessments while others rely on teams of site selection consultants and technical professionals. North Carolina created its Certified Sites Program in 2001. The details of the NC site certification process can be found here. A search of the AccessNC database will produce a current list of certified industrial sites throughout the state. In addition to the NC Certified Sites Program, which is administered by the NC Department of Commerce, two energy utilities have launched efforts to increase the number of shovel-ready industrial sites in the state. Duke Energy created its Site Readiness Program in 2005 and ElectriCities started the Smart Sites (S²) shovel ready site qualification program in 2014.

The NC Certified Sites Program and the Duke Energy Site Readiness Program have been included in Southern Business & Development’s list of Ten Superior Site Certification Programs.

Jonathan Morgan (53 Posts)

Jonathan Morgan is a School of Government faculty member.

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