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Black Box Projects

Corporations and government agencies have fairly large “Black Boxes” like the infamous “Area 59” in California where they conduct research, development and design on projects that they don’t want their competition or sometimes their vendors and allies to know about.

In the economic development world, it is not unusual for a city’s economic development team to be contacted by a site consultant or company representative to discuss potential sites for an unnamed project.  Invariably they have great names like Dick and Jane or the Duck, or more recently the Delta project.

The mystery companies make everyone sign non-disclosure agreements or NDAs to keep the real company’s identity secret during negotiations.  And many times loose lipped consultants have been fired when they disclosed more than they should about the mystery project whether timing, size, identity or even the fact that they might be working on it at all.

Meetings on these projects are always interesting with company reps being introduced as Fred or Mary from Company X.  They discuss potential incentives, possible sites, have preliminary discussions with law firms, meet or talk with companies in the business that they supposedly operate in.  (Whether they do or not is also a mystery.)  The intent is to scope out the possible locations for project X.  They always look at competing cities for their expansion or relocation to keep the competition going and ensure that they get the best “deal” and most incentives possible from the local political entities.

My most interesting project was for the “Everglades Corporation”.  We were asked to find sites that met a specific specification for the development of a headquarters facility for Everglades.  Our team, real estate at the time, worked closely with Everglades for over two years before they selected a site for their headquarters.

Everyone involved assumed that they were a Florida company moving to Texas to avoid state income taxes and to attract a strong workforce.  Inside the company, virtually no one outside the top members of the board of directors knew anything about the exercise at all.  The morning that the announcement was made in New York City that Exxon was moving its headquarters to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, every politician in the region claimed to have been working with Exxon for the entire time that the search was underway.  None of them even knew that it was in the market.  Why would Exxon ever move out of New York City, the financial capital of the world?

On the shelf in my office is a small black box.  On the front are the words Everglades Corporation.  If you were to lift the top off, inside embedded in plastic is the Exxon logo.  Exxon just did another black box project.  Check out our next post for details.


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