Digging deep

Shovel-ready sites are key for economic development. Photo provided by Cushman Wakefield | Stevenson

Shovel-ready sites key to economic development

“Shovel-ready sites” are often touted when cities, towns and municipalities promote themselves to companies looking for space to set up shop. The meaning is simple: commercial or industrial sites that have been planned, zoned, surveyed and serviced. “Shovel-ready can mean different things to different developers,” says John Pearson, president at ICI Properties. “However, it should mean that sites are readily available for transfer of ownership, detailed work has been done on all required planning, zoning, surveys, environmental studies, soils, public infrastructure and any municipal approvals. Plus, all available services such as utilities and their capacities are documented.” In essence, they are ready for shovels to begin construction. 

These sites are also vital for economic development and offer jurisdictions a leg up on the competition when it comes to attracting investment. 

Ready to go
The most important feature to shovel-ready sites is how they can shorten timelines for construction. Because so much infrastructure and regulatory work has been completed, companies can start projects far sooner. “Sites like these can remove a lot of uncertainty, especially today’s market with the current interest rate and supply chain environment,” says Chris Macsymic, senior vice president and principal at Cushman & Wakefield | Stevenson in Winnipeg. “The sooner a company can get building, the better. Shovel-ready sites can grow businesses faster.”

“The faster a municipality can provide approvals to allow for commencement of construction, the quicker the impact on the related economy,” says Brennan Pearson, vice president at ICI Properties. “Shovel-ready sites can put consultants and construction workers to work and inject capital in the economy.” 

As well, shovel-ready sites have the potential to be one of the most effective economic development tools available. “If we can provide a strategic advantage that reduces overall site selection risk, saves time, and reduces development costs, that’s a win for business and the overall economy,” says Brennan Pearson.

Getting old
As well, shovel-ready sites are often needed to address property inventory that is aging and no longer able to handle the needs of modern business. “Winnipeg has a lot of older buildings that can’t handle what companies require. Just six per cent of the commercial and industrial property here was built after the year 2000,” Macsymic says. “Shovel-ready sites can accelerate construction on new buildings that can meet the demand.” New industrial and commercial properties often need higher ceilings, modern lighting and space for trucks—requirements that buildings constructed decades ago cannot provide.

Out there
Shovel-ready sites also offer opportunities for jurisdictions to grow. Macsymic is seeing how “bedroom communities” around Winnipeg are taking advantage of their space to attract new business. “Many municipalities are seeing the value in offering commercial or industrial sites that are ready for construction,” Macsymic says. “Larger centres can have other development priorities, where smaller communities can focus on offering parcels for commercial or industrial projects and focus on that growth.”

Taking advantage
Manitoba can be prepared for developers by designating lands for development to make municipal approvals easier, according to John Pearson. “Municipalities could be more proactive in having their servicing information readily available online and in-person to help expedite the development process,” he says. “Having a head start on most of the time-consuming and regulatory aspects of development would go a long way in enticing new business to a community.”

Beyond offering shovel-ready sites, Manitoba communities and municipalities can add other selling features when wooing potential investors. “Our central time zone, low-cost energy, flat land, geographic location, and overall land cost make the province a good place to build or expand a company,” Macsymic says. “Pair that with sites that can see construction begin far sooner and we’re in a good place from an economic development perspective. The key is letting those looking know exactly what we can offer.”


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