Footloose: the work of location consultants in shaping US economic development
In this talk I will present ongoing research on the location consulting industry. From its origins in the 1919 Fantus Factory Locating Service in Chicago site selectors have come to play an extraordinarily influential role in brokering between companies seeking sites for investment and the communities seeking to attract that investment. In a series of papers with Nicholas Phelps we have documented the work of location consultants in effectively enabling the relocation of firms within the United States. I draw on archival work to describe the way in which Fantus accumulated a detailed geographical knowledge in order to make its recommendations about preferred sites for corporate investment. From the 1950s onwards Fantus was also contracted by cities and States to provide advice on their economic development efforts. In doing so Fantus – and other location consultants that followed – were able to structure the landscape of economic development in the United States. I use the concept of the “business climate” -an index first developed by Fantus - to demonstrate how location consultants have effectively enabled and intensified the competition between communities for corporate investment and accordingly the increasingly footloose nature of US capitalism.
I have a BA degree in Geography from Liverpool University, MA and PhD in Geography from Ohio State University and have held faculty positions at Sheffield University, the University of Oklahoma and - since 2006 - the University of Kentucky. My research is focused on two related areas. The first is the political dynamics of urban development. The second - and the focus in this presentation - is the endemic tension between the mobility and fixity of economic forms, activities and practices. The geographic 'stickiness' of economic activity is key to ongoing research with Nicholas Phelps (University of Melbourne) examining the growth and development of the location consulting industry. Findings from the research are set out in recent papers in Journal of Economic Geography, Business History, Environment and Planning A and Annals of the AAG.