What is a Certified Site?

A site having met some or all of the criteria for development can be referred to by a number of different terms including “certified” or “shovel-ready”. Regardless of the name however, these sites are parcels of land (or in some cases, a building) that has met specific criteria developed by the body administering the program or a consultant hired to develop this criteria. The definition of a certified site therefore, varies as there are no national or international standards.

Typically, sites are evaluated based on criteria such as:

  • Availability
  • Zoning
  • Utility Infrastructure (water, sewer, telcom)
  • Permits
  • Site Characteristics (presence of wetlands, floodplains, endangered species etc.)

When setting up a certification or shovel-ready program, it is important to consider the criteria of program, the agency or entity that will ultimately certify the site, and the depth of information to collected on each site. A proper foundation will establish the depth and accuracy needed to assure the certification program will provide the types of sites and buildings needed by serious buyers. Factors to include:

Data: the more data that is collected, the more a purchaser will know about a property, thereby reducing their risk and speeding due-diligence research.

Criteria: the more stringent the criteria, the more likely a site will be ready for development. The most comprehensive programs issue certification based on strictly defined criteria that must be met by the landowner or party seeking certification. This approach facilitates “due diligence” on a site, saving purchasers time and ultimately money.

Certifying Agency: An independent third-party certifying the site is preferred as they can be impartial and objective when evaluating the site’s characteristics.

As more certification programs are developed, evidence continues to show that these programs have proven to successfully propel economic development programs in those states and regions in which it has been implemented.

Certified versus Shovel-Ready

There is a broad spectrum of programs claiming to be site certification programs. At one end, the most comprehensive program is typically sponsored by a state agency which will issue the certification based on stringent criteria that must be met by the landowner or the party seeking certification. The criteria is consistent across the state.

The State of Oregon is an example of one such program. As a program available statewide, the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department is the certifying agency and administers the program. To achieve certification, the OECDD requires applicants to submit extensive information about a site’s utilities (water, sewer, electric, telecom), local workforce availability, easements and liens, environmental contamination, wetlands, endangered species, zoning and a number of other features. Sites can be certified for one or more of eight industry profiles.

While the process can take up to a year to complete, the information collected during the process is an invaluable tool in marketing the site. In Oregon’s case, an outside consultant was hired to help develop the criteria, review the submitted applications and make the ultimate determination of certification. Since the program’s inception, Oregon has certified 57 sites totaling over 3,300 acres. Of these, 19 have been sold and over 2,500 jobs created since they were certified.

At the other end of the spectrum are sites that are often termed “shovel-ready”. These sites are not certified by an agency but this classification does indicate that they are ready for development. Specifically, a shovel-ready site may simply indicate that a site is available, developable and is served (or could easily be served) by area utilities and infrastructure.

In the middle, there is a wide variety of programs calling themselves “certified” or “shovel-ready” and all will have different definitions and criteria. However, the ultimate motivation of these programs is the same – to have an inventory of highly marketable, “shovel-ready” sites. By guaranteeing that sites have a minimum amount of information, potential buyers reduce the amount of lead time required for due-diligence and therefore reduce the start-up time and costs.