In his own words, Mark Williams’s Corporate site selection and economic development: a 30-year perspective tells of a fascinating journey. Mr Williams has spent the past three decades working in this field, first, as an economic development official at the South Carolina department of Commerce, then as an executive at Strategic Development Group, the site selection consultancy he founded in 1999. As he states in the book’s preface, “many in the public sector and media don’t seem to understand the importance and value of economic development and site selection, and that’s unfortunate”.

Over the subsequent 144 pages, he draws from his long experience to build a compelling argument in favour of economic development and site selection, and finally dispel doubts about its importance. He sets the tone of the conversation by comparing economic development to an iceberg: the tip representing the visible, direct impact from an investment project; but it’s the bummock (the submerged part of the iceberg) that stores the wider, indirect and induced value generated by an investment project. 

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“When a significant site selection decision is made, economic resources are created and multiplied over and over, creating an influx of income and wealth which grows and is the foundation of funding for the government and, ultimately, the public good,” Mr Williams writes, thus introducing the concept of the economic multiplier. 

With this in mind, he provides a powerful example of investment projects with a high economic multiplier: the ‘napkin deal’ signed in 1992 by then governor of South Carolina, Carrol Campbell, with German automaker BMW, when — legend has it — the first draft of the deal was sketched on a napkin. 

One major objection to economic development is that it often makes available dozens, if not hundreds of millions in incentives to global corporations with deep pockets; although these come in various forms, they are mostly tax breaks. Mr Williams draws a compelling argument in favour of incentives from the BMW case. The University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business estimated that the economic impact from BMW operations in Greer, South Carolina, where the company has sunk $11.1bn in investment to date and employs more than 7000 people, currently stands at $38.5bn per year. Mr Williams deems this as a “great return” on the initial incentive of $130m offered to the company in 1992.  

He goes on describing the specifics of the profession, and its dos and don’ts, which once again draws directly from his own experience and is particularly useful for anyone interested in economic development and site selection. He also provides numerous case studies that strengthen his arguments and, eventually, the case in favour of economic development and site selection. 

The book wraps up by answering some of the difficult questions that will make or break the industry in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, such as what will be the impact of increasing automation on site selection and economic development? What are examples of business sectors that will be particularly active over the next decade? How will foreign direct investment and onshoring/reshoring play out? 

Mr Williams’s book it’s not just a memoir of his 30-year career in economic development and site selection. It provides tools and insights for anyone willing to thrive and succeed in the profession in the wake of the pandemic. It draws the contours of the author's fascinating journey, but also charts the direction of travel for any reader willing to set sail.

This article first appeared in the April/May 2022 print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.