Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing is trying to crack the code.

The site selection code, that is.

In the same way businesses attempt to strategically manage their websites so that those sites show up near the top of Google’s search results, Lawing has spent a lot of time lately analyzing the recent trends of site selection criteria to make certain that Guilford County stays as attractive as possible for site consultants and other decision makers who determine where new businesses locate.

New business recruitment and the factors that go into site selection were major topics of discussion at the Guilford County Board of Commissioners annual retreat last week, and, heading into 2019 – a year when county leaders consider economic development priority one – Lawing and the commissioners want to be certain Guilford County is well-positioned in that regard.

Lawing, who was using information from Site Selection Magazineduring his presentation, talked about what a difference a year makes.  He compared top selection criteria from 2017 with that of 2018.

In 2017, the magazine’s research revealed the following ranking of criteria: (1) Workforce skills (2) Transportation infrastructure (3) Cost and reliability of utilities (4) State and local tax schemes (5) Land availability (6) Quality of life (7) Workforce development (8) Ease of permitting (9) Incentives, and, (10) Higher education resources.

That was in 2017, but what fascinated Lawing were the changes that took place in 2018.

“In a matter of one year, look at how it changed,” Lawing told the commissioners and economic development officials in the room.

Workforce skills had remained number one, and transportation infrastructure stayed at number two; but after that there were some big changes.

“Workforce development moved up to third,” Lawing said. “Higher education moved up from tenth to fourth; utilities dropped to fifth. ‘Right to work state’ moved in there – it was not in there before.  ‘State and local tax scheme’ dropped from fourth to seventh.”

Also dropping, he said, was “ease of permitting,” which fell to eighth place. “Quality of life” dropped to ninth and incentives fell to tenth place.

“Everybody has an opinion, but these people are in the know, and this is what people are looking for,” Lawing said.

The county manager said there’s clearly more and more emphasis these days on workforce skills, workforce development, the quality of education and the size of the talent pool.

“That is at the top of about every article you read,” he said.

He added Guilford County would benefit by beefing up in this regard.

“You often hear businesses that have trouble filling jobs,” Lawing said.

Lawing also said other studies showed that the availability of land is a key factor.

“The more sites you have, the better off you are,” Lawing told the board.

Another factor he found that the county can do something about is collaboration.  Lawing said company leaders want to be in places where local governments work together well.

“They are looking at collaboration in the community,” he said.  “How well do local governments get along? How well do local governments get along with the school districts?  Is everybody on the same page as far as economic development goals?”

Lawing said Guilford County had made strides in recent years in that regard with the formation of the Guilford County Economic Development Alliance (GCEDA), but he added, “We can always improve in anything we do.”

At the meeting, High Point Economic Development Corp. President Loren Hill said that there were a host of other criteria that also play a role in successful recruitment – too many to mention.

“I would point out that there might be 300 criteria and this is just the top 10,” Hill said of the categories under discussion that day.