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Columbia Business Monthly

Mark Williams and Strategic Development Group want to protect you from making a $20 million a year mistake

By Cindy Landrum

Many aspects of site selection have changed since Mark Williams founded Strategic Development Group in 1989.

Project timelines have gotten shorter as manufacturing is booming and companies are making their decisions where to locate new facilities quicker. More data—from the demographics of potential workforces to geographic information systems—is available, reducing the amount of time that is necessary in the field. Even changes in weather patterns have pushed suitable sites further from flood plains.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the tremendous cost of selecting the wrong site.

“For 40 percent to 50 percent of the significant projects, companies try to do it themselves and they make really serious errors. They make $20 million a year mistakes, but that’s $20 million a year for the 50 years of the plant,” says Williams, who served as chief development officer for the South Carolina Department of Commerce before he started the Columbia-based Strategic Development Group. “If the locale or logistics are wrong and they’re paying more for rail or trucking, that goes on forever. If the labor force is wrong and they have high turnover, that goes on forever.”

Most of the companies’ Strategic Development Group works with have annual revenues of $500 million or more and are considering projects with investments ranging from $10 million to more than $1 billion, Williams says.

“The bigger companies better understand the value of our service and can pay for it,” notes Williams, who specializes in manufacturing and office facility site selection and negotiation for mid- to large-size U.S. and multinational corporations in the automotive, distribution, life science, steel, and chemical sectors.

The firm’s first client was BMW. Other clients include Bridgestone, Boeing, BP, Nutramax Laboratories, Nissan, JTEKT, and Sumiden Wire, the company that produced the cable on the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston.

In 2018, Strategic Development Group merged with Goldsmith Strategy, another South Carolina-based site selection firm headed by Jeannette Goldsmith. Goldsmith, who serves as Strategic Development Group’s vice president, heavily focused on manufacturing—specifically aerospace, logistics, advanced materials, and automotive—and office sectors. She worked on Nissan North America’s headquarters relocation from Los Angeles to Nashville and siting Boeing’s 787 Final Assembly facility.

Both Williams and Goldsmith are members of the Site Selectors Guild, a professional association comprised of the world’s most respected site selection consultants.

Williams said Strategic Development Group’s repeat business is a testament to its competence, along with the trust it has built up with its customers.

“Our company is small, but the experience and tenure of our staff matches or exceeds our competition,” Williams says. “We’re a small boutique company in Columbia, S.C., but we’re working all over the world.”