Thursday, February 24, 2011

Details revealed about Mitsubishi selection process

Memphis Business Journal - by Jennifer Dawson and Jane A. Donahoe

Mitsubishi Electric Power Products this week officially announced plans to build a $200 million, 350,000-square-foot facility at Rivergate Industrial Park which would manufacture large power transformers. Memphis will serve as the headquarters for the company’s heavy electrical equipment production in North America.

HBJ reporter Jennifer Dawson interviewed Mark Sweeney, the consultant who headed Mitsubishi’s site-selection team. (HBJ is a Memphis Business Journal sister publication.)

Sweeney would not comment on why Memphis won the deal, dubbed Project 21 throughout the site selection process. He also would not disclose what financial incentives were offered by each community or if the ultimate decision came down to the dollar amount.

“We acknowledge that the incentives mattered,” Sweeney, senior principal with McCallum Sweeney Consulting in Greenville, S.C., told HBJ. “They always have an impact on the final decision.”

Houston and Memphis were two of three finalists; the third finalist was not disclosed.

Charles Iupe, general partner of the 15,000-acre Houston industrial park that would have landed the project, said he met several times with Project 21 executives, who were so secretive they only gave their first names.

A Houston real estate broker said in the HBJ story that Memphis was “buying jobs.”

“They can throw a lot more money than we can in Texas to get them,” said B. Kelley Parker III, the Cushman & Wakefield of Texas Inc. real estate broker who represents the industrial park. “They’re buying jobs, basically. If that’s the case, they didn’t go with the best site; they went with the one that gave the best benefits.”

The Memphis-Shelby County Industrial Development Board unanimously approved $34 million in tax breaks for the project that will eventually create 281 jobs in Memphis.

Sweeney told HBJ he visited Houston at least six times during 2009 and 2010 for Project 21. He was able to keep Mitsubishi Electric’s identity under wraps by educating his clients on the tricks of the trade, like not telling anyone where they grew up or where they went to school.

Some clues were evident toward the end of the process, when Mitsubishi Electric executives came from Japan to conduct site visits. They spoke English, but Sweeney told HBJ it was obvious they were from Japan. He recalls that a Mitsubishi Electric executive joked with hosts at one site saying, “You can tell we’re a German firm.”

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