BLS & Co. Managing Director Tracey Hyatt Bosman spoke to Site Selection Magazine about how infrastructure and labor impacts site selection decisions.
Some back-of-the-envelope math proves to be potentially illuminating, especially as the coronavirus pandemic recedes. Qualifying projects among the leading 10 Tier 1 Metros totaled 2,128 in 2021, a huge spike of nearly 50% over 2020. Those parameters, when applied to Tier 2 Metros (metros whose populations range from 200,000 to 1 million), reveal an annual jump of 25%, while — by the same aggregate — the leading 10 metros among Tier 3s (metros smaller than 200,000 population) actually witnessed a small decline in qualifying projects.
What does any of that mean?
“Anytime there’s economic disruption, capital investment projects will go to the areas of least risk,” says veteran site selector Tracey Hyatt Bosman, managing director in the Chicago office of Biggins Lacy Shapiro, the national site consultancy. “That can mean going to an established city, where the infrastructure is already there and maybe even the building. And with the long delays in construction, existing buildings are even that much more attractive.
“Then,” she notes, “we also have the national labor shortage, whereby bigger cities that have more people give the company — at least in theory — a better hope of finding the right workers. Also keep in mind the growth of e-commerce, which feeds the cities. If I’m going to put in an e-commerce distribution center, that’s where I’m looking.”
In February, forbes.com reported that, based on figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport ranked as the nation’s top “port” for the first time ever. The Port of Los Angeles, struggling mightily during the pandemic, had ranked No.1 going back to at least 2003, forbes.com noted. O’Hare’s trade for 2021— gliding on the wings of cell phone and computer imports and shipments of medicines, vaccines and plasmas — topped $300 billion, an increase of staggering proportions. As Ross Perot used to say, “Think about that.”
For Tracey Hyatt Bosman, it’s more than just a neat bit of trivia. In trying to account for Chicago’s record haul of projects in 2021 and its recent record of dominance, Bosman lasers in on air transportation.
“The impact of Chicago’s two airports is an asset that you can’t just create,” she says. “It’s moving people and it’s moving product. Especially given all the disruption to the East and West Coast ports, Chicago’s global air connectivity is number one for me.”
The logistics and transportation side of the Chicago story is well known. Bosman is among those who believe there’s another narrative that needs to get out.
“Chicago,” she says, “has felt over the years that its manufacturing sector is underrepresented in the city’s brand. In fact, it’s huge. There are so many manufacturers — thousands of home-grown manufacturers in some cases — that there are a lot of different sources for projects in Chicago.
“Especially,” says Bosman, “if we were to isolate the last few years, BLS has seen tremendous activity nationwide in five sectors: food, e-commerce, general manufacturing, life sciences and tech. Chicago is very well positioned to absorb the activity that has been going on in all these sectors. Chicago just works for a diversity of projects.”