Here's the recipe that brought Clif Bar to Idaho

A 'site selector' orchestrates the dance that helps bring a $90 million, 300,000-square-foot bakery to Twin Falls.

(TWIN FALLS) TIMES-NEWSOctober 29, 2013 

TWIN FALLS - Central to the deal that brought Clif Bar to Idaho was a man in a suit with slicked-back hair.

His name is J. Michael Mullis, and he is what's known as a "site selector."

The maker of energy bars aimed at hikers, bikers and backpackers hired Mullis to find an area for its bakery and ink a development contract. His Memphis, Tenn.-based J.M. Mullis Inc. has offices in four countries and handles 40 to 50 projects a year the size of Clif Bar's or bigger.

More than $800 million worth of capital investment has come to the Magic Valley in the past year, bringing more than 1,000 jobs — Chobani's yogurt plant, Glanbia's cheese innovation center, McCain Food's processing expansion, Frulact's fruit-processing plant and now Clif Bar.

Jan Rogers, executive director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization, said about 40 percent of the deals she has worked on involved site selectors. Chobani and Frulact did not, she said.

When negotiators such as Mullis aren't handling a company's affairs, business headhunters such as Rogers work directly with corporate brass, responding to information requests. Without a site selector, though, the corporation's daily operations come first, so expansion takes longer, she said.

But with Mullis, it's like speed dating.

Cities must have "not only a quick response, but a correct response," Mullis said. "Many times they aren't correct."

Between June and August, Mullis and his company whittled down hundreds of sites. An executive team flew in a corporate aircraft to five locations in two days. Mullis said he travels more than 300 days a year.

Working on such a project is a seven-day-a-week endeavor, Rogers said.

"You have to be that responsive to stay in the game because somebody else is," she said.

At some point comes the "closing window" when the company is ready to decide, Rogers said.

Neither site selectors nor corporate officials prepare negotiators for this, and it's further complicated by a company's individual style and preference. But Rogers said she feels it intuitively through experience.

Everything "ratchets up a notch," and the corporation's pace needs to be reciprocated. "If you ... don't recognize that (you need to step it up), you are going to miss the opportunity," she said.

Knowing site selectors and promoting the Magic Valley to them is critical. Rogers went to Las Vegas last week for the CoreNet Global Summit for site consultants and corporate real estate executives, an event she has attended for 12 years. She and others from the Magic Valley exhibited and promoted the area's influx of development, trumpeting the statistics.

"It is all about relationships, and it is our job to keep Southern Idaho in front of this group," she said.

'SENSE OF COMMUNITY'

By the time a site selector contacts a city, much of the research has been done. Mullis said his company has an extensive database to analyze an area's workforce. Its proprietary tools provide enough information to determine who makes the first round of cuts, he said.

"Frequently, Idaho may not be considered (by others) because there is not enough known about the state from a logistics standpoint, and so it's not even put into the equation," Mullis said.

His firm has a lot of experience with the state and area, though. It has considered Twin Falls several times. Mullis and Clif Bar were impressed not only by the Magic Valley workforce and focus on business, but also by "its history of leadership, its plan for development in the future, business and political leadership."

"Are they really focused unilaterally on bringing new business to the community?" Mullis asks. "It is a major measurement that we do that is very quantitative, but we are very good at doing it. We can touch and feel a community for an hour or so and determine how real it is."

The Clif Bar project challenged all because of its many unique requirements. The company's five aspirations — sustainability of business, brand, people, community and the planet — were hard to apply to a national search. But in each instance, city officials met those needs "unequivocally."

"It is the first time we've ever had to conduct an analysis of that type in over 25 years," Mullis said.

Twin Falls City Manager Travis Rothweiler agreed: Clif Bar felt different from the start. Conversations usually dominated by finances were ruled by "sense of community and sense of place."

Only a 5 percent cost difference separated the three finalists suggested to Clif Bar, Mullis said. The Magic Valley's intangibles simplified the hardest part of his job — matching a community with a corporation's personality.

"You go in, you touch it, you feel it and you can't help but like it," he said of Twin Falls' quality of life. "It has a natural beauty to it that's second to none."

SWEETENING THE POT

Finalizing a large corporate deal, however, isn't all sense, emotion and sweet talking. A lot of money and infrastructure need to be pushed around.

In all, Clif Bar will get $25.3 million from the city, state and local urban renewal agency.

The agency, for its $18.9 million share, first will negotiate a letter of credit with Clif Bar, which pays it to begin infrastructure upgrades while Clif Bar designs the plant, said agency executive director Melinda Anderson.

Once the plant is operational, the Twin Falls County Assessor's Office determines the value of the improvements and the annual property tax. The agency can use that tax figure to secure a bond to repay Clif Bar its infrastructure costs.

Urban renewal money will pay for wastewater improvements; land acquisition; utilities; road and railroad crossing improvements; and water storage.

The city will kick in $3.5 million toward a huge water tank, and the state is expected to chip in $1.8 million from various coffers.

Clif Bar has $4 million waiting from the Idaho Workforce Development Training Fund for creating up to 505 jobs. The training will go toward permanent, full-time jobs that must include medical benefits and pay of at least $12 an hour.

Though Clif Bar is getting a lucrative package to kickstart its investment, it is receiving fewer breaks than Chobani did. The city coughed up $6.75 million for Chobani's wastewater treatment facility and to extend the sewer line.

To land Chobani, the city waived about $5.4 million worth of building permit and wastewater system capacity fees.

As the city expands the wastewater treatment plant through a bond, it won't waive wastewater capacity and water connection fees. Those costs total $181,019. What's more, the city isn't giving Clif Bar a special rate on wastewater.

But it is forgiving building permit fees to the tune of $220,000 and will expedite and give preferential treatment to Clif Bar's permits to the extent of the law, Rothweiler said.

Mullis said Idaho might not be the "biggest incentive state," but it ranks high for its "ability to get things done."

"California might take me a year or more to permit something. Idaho would probably take 90 days."

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