What’s in a Site Selection Project Code Name?

Choosing and using site selection project code names is becoming increasingly important as states compete and poach ED projects from under each others’ noses. But it’s not as simple as that, because the code names need to make sense while not giving away anything.

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Photo - Los gatos code enforcement

It’s so important that states are enacting laws to ensure they have the right to maintain confidentiality regarding incentives offered to companies interested in setting up a new plant or expanding existing facilities. Tennessee tried to do it too, but their ED secrecy law just met a grisly end and has been buried forever.

But that’s not stopping Tennessee ED officials and the site selection consultants they work with from scheming to come up with some very unique project code names. The Nashville Business Journal has a nice take on how Tennessee officials come up with the code names.

The article outlines a couple of cases that were complete disasters. Mars Petcare had to change their project name from Project Skylar to Project Beta after the media made the obvious connection. Similarly, a T-Mobile customer care center project was named Project Zeta, which was just as obvious since Catherine Zeta-Jones was a T-mobile spokesperson at that time.

But sometimes, a name is just about perfect while not giving away the whole story. The Lane Metro Partnership in Eugene, Oregon named an Enterprise Rent-a-Car project as Star Trek. It may seem glaringly obvious when you know you have to associate it with Enterprise aka the Starship Enterprise, but otherwise Star Trek can point towards a whole lot of other things.

There are many more cases all over the map which show how this whole cloak and dagger code name business has evolved and how smart ED officials have become at using the code name to tilt the scales in their favor.

When Germany’s ThyssenKrupp AG was “coming to America,” their site selection team named it Project Columbus. Rather too obvious and the company started to worry that the whole thing would become public before they were ready. So they arbitrarily changed the name to Project Compass, only keeping the “C” from Columbus.

Ultimately, Alabama won the deal, and the code name played a small but significant part in clinching the deal. When ThyssenKrupp officials flew in to Mobile, AL for a site visit, they were put up at the Marriott on Airport Boulevard. Their view from the window was of a Compass Bank branch located right in front of the hotel. ThyssenKrupp officials were suitably impressed and things went very well for Alabama.

In another case, the city of Salina, Kansas and another city were each in the running for a project but they didn’t know who the other city was. The Kansas staff googled the project code name and found the City of Grand Island, Nebraska was the other competitor because Grand Island officials had publically discussed the project by its code name and what incentives they should offer.

Salina learned from this experience. When another company was discussing expanding a plant, the company was already using a code name but the Salina people gave the project a second code name for local discussions, so that the company’s plants in other locations would not find out what was going on.

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