A year ago, economic development leaders in Wichita were talking about how “certifying” industrial sites was crucial to boosting the area’s competitiveness for landing new manufacturing plants and other facilities.
More than half of all states, Oklahoma and Missouri among them, have certified site programs, although Kansas does not.
“It’s almost a baseline that if you don’t have a certified site (site selection consultants) won’t even look at you,” said David Bossemeyer, managing director for the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.
Today, some work has been done on developing a certification program, but there is not yet a program and no sites have been certified.
What is certification? It means developing a standard list of questions about potential sites — from the width of the sewer lines to the local workforce’s education level to whether American Indian artifacts have been found on the site. Once that information is gathered and verified, the site can be listed as certified.
The idea is that site selection consultants would be assured that they have all the information they need and they won’t find any surprises.
Bossemeyer developed a checklist over the last year after examining the requirements of many other state and local certification programs.
But there remains disagreement locally over how certification should be done.
One of the key disagreements is over whether certifying a site means hiring a third party to verify the information supplied by the developer.
That means hiring an independent consultant or engineer to review the claims by the developer or land owner about the site. It can cost between $20,000 and $30,000 per site, Bossemeyer said.
He still believes that a third-party verification is needed. Oklahoma, for one, has such an independent verification.
That means that it can’t be verified by the developer, the broker, the GWEDC or the state of Kansas. All have a direct interest in seeing the deal happen.
“The third party gives it the credibility,” he said. “I can’t do it because I have skin in the game.”
Gary Schmitt, chairman-elect of GWEDC and division director of commercial real estate for Intrust Bank, helped work on this issue over the last year. He said he now thinks that getting third-party endorsements may not be necessary.
It’s a lot of money for something that may not be needed. Such a cost would be borne by the property owner. Wichita has some publicly owned land, adjacent to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, but the great majority of sites in the city are privately owned. However, there are large public industrial parks in Bel Aire and Newton.
The important thing about the certification process is that it ensures that developers and brokers answer all the critical questions. The process is more about ensuring the information is complete, rather than unbiased.
“Is a third party necessary? If they are getting good information, I don’t think so,” he said.
But, he said, the matter is still being studied. It is just one of several issues the city’s economic development leadership is working on.
Ty Lasher, city manager of Bel Aire, for one is ready for a certification program.
He said he wants every edge he can get to sell the Sunflower Commerce Park in Bel Aire.
The city has filled out Bossemeyer’s checklist and has committed to getting the site verified, but now it’s stuck because there is no certification program.
“We met all the qualifications and we’re just waiting on whomever to say we’re certified and get it done,” Lasher said.