By Bill R. Shelton, CEcD
Decisions to locate businesses are normally made after analyzing and weighing various variables that either directly or indirectly affect costs associated with the location. These variables are commonly called location factors and vary by industry as well as by company. Conventional location factors are hard costs such as labor, sites or buildings, local taxes, proximity to customers, proximity to raw materials, utilities, accessibility to suppliers, plus soft costs such as amenities (quality of life).
A factor that is gaining influence in the location decision process is the political will of the community’s leadership. Yet political will is seldom recognized for the role it plays in a location decision. Perhaps that is because it is difficult to define and impossible to assign a dollar value.
Here are some thoughts about political will and why it is so important to the location decisions of a company.
- Creates a competitive socioeconomic environment for communities by influencing factors as capital, regulations, incentives and technology
- Champions the need for constructive change and forms commitments to make change happen
- Does not walk away from commitments when there are concerns or criticisms raised
- Provides leadership when working through a crisis
- Accepts blame but also shares glories
The lack of political will can make a community economically uncompetitive and leave it without a viable economic development strategy. But why is political will so critical to the development process? It attracts public sector partners by:
- Creating political stability
- Engaging competent staff members
- Establishing and enforcing effective policies and regulations
- Securing incumbency and the commitment to a structured environment
Local governments are at the nexus of nearly every business location or expansion decision because they provide much of the infrastructure and basic services needed by businesses, they are the gateway for regulations and they create the business climate conducive to business. Local governments can be a positive force for improving the competitiveness of community if there is the political will.
Political will involves creative leadership that starts with a vision that goes beyond the vision of just one individual. However, the driving force behind a community’s political will is often one dedicated individual. That individual recruits supporters, but also allows criticism without letting naysayers derail or discourage the process of making the shared vision reality.
When local civic leaders are able to place into context the fundamental improvements to be competitive, they are able to mobilize the community’s resources as well as develop and implement strategies that foster public/private partnerships, which are critical to business and economic development.
A business-friendly environment is one of the strongest incentives a community can offer an existing or new business. And in reality, it is political will that builds and maintains that business-friendly environment.