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REGIONS AMERICAS


OURWORK BEGINS LONGBEFOREASITE SELECTION PROCESS STARTS,ANDCONTINUES THROUGHCONSTRUCTIONANDBEYOND


Powering the US’s economicdevelopment I


COVID-19 AND CLIMATE CHANGE HAVE EMPHASISED THE ROLE OF US UTILITY COMPANIES. ALEX IRWIN-HUNT REPORTS


n mid-2020, global tier-one auto- motive supplier Dura was search- ing for a south-eastern US site to


produce electric vehicle (EV) battery trays. However, delays caused by Covid-19 meant the Michigan-based company was on a tight deadline to launch its new facility. Tomeet its timeline, Dura needed


to find an existing building which met its requirements, within four hours’ drive of the plant where the EVs would be assembled. Luckily, help was at hand. The Tennessee ValleyAuthority (TVA), apub-


licly-owned electric utility company, identified appropriate buildings available to lease across communities it serves in the Tennessee Valley. Gregory Burkart, a managing director at


the consultancy firmthat was assistingDura in its search, Duff & Phelps, says that TVA’s help was invaluable in creating a shortlist of loca- tions and expediting the site visit process, whichhas been“critical” during the pandemic. “TVA [also] offered low-cost electricity and a


generous infrastructure grant,” he adds. This assistance paid off, withDura announc-


ing in August 2020 that it would lease an exist- ing building in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, invest- ing $59m in manufacturing equipment and creating 279 direct jobs. Across the 2019 fiscal year alone, TVA’s eco-


nomic development team helped create or retain 66,500 jobs and brought investment worth $8.9bn to the communities it serves. But this is just one example of a utility company helping to expand business activity in the US. For Didi Caldwell, the president of site selec- tion consultancy Global Location Strategies, utilities play an “indispensable role” in eco- nomic development. RonCrum,wholeads the site selection prac-


tice at regional engineering firm CSRS, agrees. “Beyond the local economic development office


52


(EDO) and state government, the utility com- pany is probably the most valuable partner in site selection,” he declares. So how exactly do utilities help foster capi-


tal investment and job growth in the areas they serve, andwhat is in it for them?


Powering economicdevelopment Utilities are companies that enable the genera- tion and distribution of specific services — typi- cally electricity, natural gas and water — to their customers.While all types of utilities have an interest topromote regional economic devel- opment, it tends to be electric utilities that are themost active. This is because any new investment within


the areas they serve brings more demand for electricity, thus creating additional revenue for the utility, but also jobs and tax revenue for the local community. Therefore, utilities offer a whole range of


services to recruit new businesses into their ser- vice territory; from preparing, developing and marketing sites to project management, train- ing, technical assistance and funding. Tim Wells, the vice president of sales at pri-


vately-owned utility American Electric Power (AEP), says that hiscompany engages in projects based on their “knowledge of local utility and infrastructure networks, and site availability, but can serve as a resource across the entire site selection process”. “We are working aggressively to help our


communities diversify their economies, attract new businesses and jobs, improve mobility and build a strong talent pipeline,” he adds. AEP’s economic developmentteamworks across a ser- vice territory spanning 11 states, including parts of Texas, Arkansas, Ohio and Virginia.


Site identification One essential proactive role that utilities play is in site identification within their territory.


www.fDiIntelligence.com February/March 2021


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