There’s so much more to the US than New York or LA when it comes to expanding business operations. But with hundreds of cities to choose from, how do you make the right choice for your new US office? Rory Shedden, Sherpa and Chief of Staff at MPLC shares his top criteria.
The US is renowned for its huge, iconic cities. They’re packed with everything you’d expect as a visitor – skyscrapers, landmarks and celebrities. Frank Sinatra even immortalised New York as the place where “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”, while declaring that LA was his lady.
But if you’re not just visiting – and indeed, planning to expand your operations with an office on the ground – it’s important to look past the big cities that might be highlighted on your travel bucket list. It’s time to think strategically and practically about where would make the perfect new home for your business.
Of course, there are places known for their thriving industries. Like San Francisco for the tech industry, Boston for life sciences (among other things), and New York for financial services, for example. But bringing a bit of scientific methodology to your location selection process can help you look past the stereotypes. It can give you confidence that you’ve made the right choice. It can also preparing you for the environment you’re going into.
At MPLC, we recently opened a new office in Salt Lake City. It’s the first US expansion beyond our existing US office in Los Angeles. On the surface, it might seem like a choice that’s out of left field when you think of the commercial heavyweights the country has to offer city-wise. But the decision was the product of a thorough research process. It drilled down into over 50 cities, from Jacksonville, Florida, to Springfield, Massachusetts, essentially creating a score sheet for our most important factors.
Here are three of the top factors we landed on which led us to Salt Lake City.
1. Talent supply
An important initial question to ask is, who do we need the majority of our new workforce to be made up of? And where do we find lots of them, regularly? If you have an ongoing need for a specific qualification, like software engineers, or scientists, you might place a greater emphasis on proximity to certain universities. Smartphone maker BlackBerry, for example, has a long standing relationship with the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. It recently officially extended this into a multimillion dollar research innovation partnership. This highlights what you can do when you make good friends with your neighbours.
However, if your US operation is going to be less specialised, a university talent feeder may not be essential. You might be more driven by factors like having a large general employment pool at your disposal (but not going somewhere where the unemployment rate is unfavourably high).
You will also likely want to look at the overall cost of employment. This is where data like average household income is useful. Obviously, an area with low average salaries might sound good for your bottom line. But you might struggle to find people with the right skillset. Areas with high salaries tend to indicate a high quality of life with plenty of appeal for candidates you may need to attract there. But then you could find yourself outpriced in a competitive market. Needless to say, for most businesses a happy medium is the threshold to aim for.
2. Travel time
Even with all the remote working learnings from COVID, the early days of your operation are likely to benefit from regular visits from your home country leadership. Traveling directly rather than changing en route makes a big difference to executives with limited time. They save energy and avoid the hassle of missed connections. Direct flights from Heathrow to Salt Lake City were a big tick for us. It’s also a short flight to LA, where we already have a well established US office.
The Research Triangle in North Carolina was appealing, especially as it’s in a time zone closer to the UK. But it would have cost the LA team a day of travel for any visit there. You can see then how logistics like travel can impact the experience your team has when interacting with your US office.
3. Overall quality of life
A factor like whether there are good schools indicates the kind of quality of life that could also be appealing to potential new candidates you might want to attract. Remote and hybrid working are of course becoming widely adopted, but there are still lots of roles where proximity to the office is desirable. And there are good data sets out there on average commute times and distance which staff travel to the office. Looking at these measures in the round can really help to understand how likely people are to want to work in a certain location.
And what are people going to enjoy in their spare time? Salt Lake City has fantastic ski resorts to offer. This wasn’t ‘officially’ on our spreadsheet of criteria to analyse, but it certainly captured the attention of everyone at MPLC!
You can, of course, over analyse things. If you feel yourself getting into analysis paralysis, that’s when it’s time to take your shortlist and start scoping things out physically, where you can. Even if you can’t visit a location in person, why not pick up the phone and speak to some local recruiters, real estate agents and economic development corporations. They will give you valuable insight to overlay on your data.
Many entrepreneurs run their business with a smart balance of data and ‘touch and feel’ decisions. This methodology replicates that. The data and the local insights should all complement each other so you arrive at literally the right place. A combination of data sources gives your choice sound rationale for questions that come your way. It gives any debate the value of being backed by data – and not just because we happen to love skiing.
To learn more about how we supported MPLC launch its new US sales office, click here.