A Zooming Market

Want to make quick comparisons of potential office sites? Free help is available on the Web.
S.L. MintzMarch 1, 2009

Looking for locations in all the wrong places? It’s a vexing problem when companies expand or consolidate, especially in unfamiliar markets. A mere few miles may separate a great spot from any number of lousy ones. The width of a city street can spell the difference between locating a facility in a neighborhood with special tax treatment and missing out on that break. A host of variables will shape the outcome, everything from median incomes to home values to education levels to transportation hubs to municipal zoning restrictions and much more.

Who has the time to learn all that, or the budget to visit multiple sites, or the stomach to assess brokers’ true agendas and incentives? Simple Web searches can glean some insight regarding the suitability of general locations, but finding space that fits exacting criteria takes much more digging and local knowledge.

For Ken Kaufman, founder and CEO of CFOwise, an executive staffing firm that places “permanent part-time” finance executives with companies in California, Nevada, and Utah, there had to be a better way.

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Recently, when Kaufman was assessing how (or even whether) to staff a client engagement in Portland, Oregon, he tested, a free Web-based service that offers demographic data on thousands of communities across the United States. (The communities pay to be listed.) Users specify a list of desired attributes and the site recommends locations.

Users can view demographic data for any selected community, retrieve a ranked list of communities that most closely match places where a business already exists, or search for communities that match business-location requirements. Zoomprospector can even sift through these communities for patents issued, venture-capital businesses funded, average household expenditures, nearest interstates, and the presence of federal empowerment zones or Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites.

Zooming in on Portland, Kaufman compared lease rates, learned about commute times, tax rates, and other considerations, and quickly closed the deal.

“My mind goes first and foremost to the hundreds of thousands of dollars lost by making wrong decisions when opening in new markets,” says Kaufman. “I wouldn’t say that Zoomprospector would always avoid that, but in 90 percent of cases it can help us identify problems before going in.” A happy prospect indeed.

S.L. Mintz is deputy editor at CFO.