When Victor Toledo and his partner, Chad Lacerte, were looking for a location for their new wake board park, they approached nearly a dozen cities looking for the right spot.

But once they met with members of the Allen Economic Development Corp. and spoke with representatives of the city of Allen, Texas, they knew they had found the perfect location, says Toledo.

“We talked to several north Texas cities at the same time, and they were all very receptive to the concept,” says Toledo. “But what Allen did differently is that they really stepped up and said, ‘Not only do we like it and want it, we’ve even got a place for it, and we can help you through the approval process.’”

The pair presented the concept rendering for Hydrous Wake Park to the city in January 2011, began construction in April and opened in September. Although there are 230 cable parks around the work, Hydrous is one of only 13 in the U.S., and the only one in America with three cable systems. And after just four months of operation, it was named 2011 Cable Park of the Year by Unleashed magazine, an international wake boarding publication based in France.

“Looking at the success of these parks around world, we thought bringing the concept to a healthy, vibrant market like Allen, especially because it’s in the Sunbelt, would be a good match, as the city is very youth oriented and very sports oriented,” says Toledo. “We really drew on the European parks in our design and strategy to create a ski resort type atmosphere in the middle of the city.”

Smart Business spoke with Toledo about the new business, and how the Allen Economic Development Corp. has been key to its early success.

What part did the Allen Economic Development Corp. and its members play in your decision to locate in Allen?

They have been very accommodating. They have really been a true partner throughout the whole process. Hydrous is located in a city park, nestled between a skate board park and the high school, which has 5,200 students, just opened a $30 million performing arts center and is completing a $60 million high school football stadium. Allen is a city that really cares about culture, sports, recreation and education, and it has done a tremendous job.

We approached several cities at the same time, and Allen was one of them. They saw an opportunity, they saw the presentation, and they immediately set up a meeting for us with the Parks Department and the city manager’s office, and they really helped us expedite the process.

Once things were set in motion, how did the city and the economic development corporation continue to assist you?

We have an ongoing relationship with the city because they are our landlord; we rent space from them. The Allen Economic Development Corp. was our liaison with the city, and they helped us secure a long-term lease on the property at a nominal cost. The fact that we didn’t have to invest any capital up front for the land made Allen a very attractive option for us, allowing us to focus our investment on the building, digging the lakes, digging the well and building a pro shop. We didn’t have to invest anything for the land, and without that incentive, we probably wouldn’t be here.

The city and the economic development corporation are also our marketing partners. One thing that’s attractive about this venue is that it’s a regional draw, and we get a number of visitors from foreign countries. We estimate that less than 10 percent of the people who wakeboard here actually live in Allen.

How has the city assisted you with water concerns?

There was a drought last summer, so as we were digging the two lakes, the city also allowed us to dig a 1,200-foot well so that we would have our own dedicated water source that was not subject to drought restrictions. That’s a big up-front cost, but we now don’t have a water bill.

The city didn’t want us to compete with its existing water resources and was able to accommodate us. And quite frankly, we couldn’t have competed with the existing water resources because of the drought restrictions.

How did your fall opening help you get up and running?

We really would have much rather opened in March at the start of the busy season, but the way it worked out, we signed the lease in January, got engineering approval in March, broke ground and finished by September, which was a pretty ambitious timetable.

So rather than wait until March to open, we decided we wouldn’t open the restaurant until then but we would at least get our feet wet and get some experience under our belts. That way, in March, we are ready to really show our best because we already have five months’ experience running the park.

We had time to make sure we had made good personnel decisions and marketing decisions, rather than just opening in a whirlwind with a brand new staff. And we’re feeling pretty good about our decisions right now.

Would you recommend that other businesses consider locating in Allen?

Absolutely. The economic development council and the city have been tremendous partners. They have a very pro-business attitude and they care about their city. They are very aggressive about attracting the right type of businesses and diversifying their tax base. And in our case, they also provided an amenity that Allen’s residents previously didn’t have — a lake. There was no boating culture here at all, and now Allen has become the wake boarding go-to spot in the country with wakeboarding videos regularly shown around the world.

Victor Toledo is co-owner of Hydrous Wake Park in Allen, Texas. Reach him at (214) 755-9905 or victor@hydrouswakeparks.com. Reach the Allen Economic Development Corp. at (972) 727-0250 or www.allentx.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by the Allen Economic Development Corporation, strategically positioned in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro.

Published in Los Angeles

When considering a move to a new community, a company’s leaders may be influenced by the desirability of  residing in a certain locale, or choose a city based on having heard good things about it. But there are a number of factors to consider to ensure the move is the right one for the company, and that it is pursuing all possible incentives, says Linda Burns, a site location consultant at Burns Development Group in the Dallas metropolitan area.

“Key factors to consider include labor availability and the cost of that labor, real estate availability and the associated costs, a geographic area that coincides with a company’s customers, vendors and suppliers, and the tax environment and incentives that may be available,” says Burns.

Smart Business spoke with Burns about how to ensure a successful transition into a new community that is right for your business.

If a company is considering relocating, what is the first thing it should do?

If you don’t have the expertise in house to conduct an assessment, seek the outside assistance of a site location consultant. That will help you, in a very objective fashion, to evaluate potential real estate and work force and look at how your operational needs are going to impact your real estate needs.

A consultant will look at where your company does business and where its vendors and suppliers are located. The consultant will also consider your unique real estate requirements; for example, as a data center or a manufacturer, you may have very stringent infrastructure requirements that you need to factor in.

CEOs need to take into consideration the strategic, financial and operational implications of rationalizing a company’s facility location across multiple markets. A site consultant can help you collect that data and make recommendations on the best-suited sites to consider. Calling in the consultant early in the process is critical. Getting that advice and guidance up front is a huge help as you are looking at your total portfolio and deciding what to do.

What other factors does a company need to consider?

Labor is another important element, in terms of availability and wage rates. It’s very expensive for companies to relocate labor, and they can’t afford to deal with unsold homes like they used to. It is key when making decisions on location that companies assess labor availability and average wages in the area being considered and factor that into their operational plan. In many cases, suitability of the work force in terms of availability of workers with desired skill sets and wage rates supercedes the real estate.

Also look at where your vendors, suppliers and customers are located, where your markets are, and where it makes sense for you to be. And look not just at your needs but also at what the cost of those needs are, such as whether you’re considering a move into a state with very high electricity costs. Look at what your demand is going to be on those systems, and what the associated costs are.

Consultants approach the site search as a process of elimination. Your site consultant will assess other areas, such as quality of life and business climate; educational and training resources; health care offerings; recreational, cultural and retail amenities. All of these items potentially affect the bottom line — including the company’s ability to recruit and retain workers.

How can tax incentives play a role in deciding where to locate?

Companies don’t always think in terms of being desirable or being in a position to approach a community, county or state about tax relief. They may think that they will only get the attention of a community if they are moving hundreds of people, building a building or have millions of dollars in investments. What they don’t take into consideration, especially in a large metropolitan area, is that there are many surrounding communities that would be very happy and very supportive to receive a smaller project.

There are some very aggressive programs out there right now and they are getting more aggressive at all levels. There are deal-closing funds to provide gap financing that is needed to secure projects. There are communities that have cash grants that provide discretionary funds to pay for anything from relocation to putting in a rail spur to training employees.

A company would be remiss not to conduct due diligence and look at all possible location or expansion scenarios. It’s a numbers game. Jobs are really needed right now, and communities are very receptive and willing to work with projects that offer job creation.

Is now a good time to consider relocation opportunities?

With all the downsizing, or ‘right-sizing,’ of the past few years, companies are reassessing where their current locations are and whether it makes sense to continue there in the future. They are looking at whether they should consolidate multiple facilities into one they currently own or lease, or whether a different territory makes more sense in terms of logistics and costs.

There is still a conservative approach in terms of evaluating what the next step should be, but there’s a definite increase in companies evaluating their current situations and trying to forecast their future needs. And the real estate market is still very competitive in terms of what property owners are willing to do for companies, offering some very good tenant improvement allowances, free rent and helping to take people out of leases early in some cases by the savings that they’re able to offer.

Communities are looking for new tax revenue and need new job opportunities because many still have high unemployment rates. And that makes it a very good time for companies to be looking to relocate to a location that could improve their bottom line.

Linda Burns is a site location consultant with Burns Development Group in the Dallas metropolitan area, specializing in incentive negotiations and economic development recruiting. Reach her at (214) 402-1882 or linda@burnsdevelopmentgroup.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by the Allen Economic Development Corporation, strategically positioned in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro.

Published in Los Angeles