Businesses looking to locate or expand in Scott County have a new resource for helping them find sites that could suit their needs.

The First Stop Shop has been up and running for few months as part of a long-term effort by the Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency (SCALE) to attract businesses and boost employment. The program is being funded by SCALE and overseen by the county’s community development agency.

SCALE says that just 24 percent of the local workforce is employed in Scott County, while more than 40 percent travel to jobs in Hennepin County. The organization wants to create enough jobs so that 50 percent of Scott County’s workforce would be employed locally by 2030.

SCALE believes that to do that, cities need more help to quickly identify and provide information on sites for new or expanding businesses, either buildings or vacant land. It’s a task that’s become more difficult in recent years for some budget-strapped cities to do on their own.

“When people call a city, we sometimes don’t have all the information they want,” said Barry Stock, Savage city administrator. “But I don’t have the luxury to hire a full-time economic development director because of the recession and budget cuts.”

Like Savage, some cities in Scott County also have gotten along with either part-time economic development directors or by parceling the duties out among other city staff. Shakopee is now in the process of hiring a full-time economic development director, but it hasn’t had one since 2004.

The First Stop Shop seeks to fill the gap by cataloging all kinds of commercial property information in each city, including the type and size of space on the market, utility rates, the availability of fiber optics and access to major roads. The program seeks to serve as a single point of contact for cities seeking information for prospective employers and also for the businesses themselves.

Stacy Crakes, business development manager for the new program, said she’s in the midst of compiling a huge database with property information.

“What we’d like to have eventually is a website with mapping abilities to show what parcels, what buildings are available, and then the information tied to those properties, like square footage, acreage, permits required,” Crakes said.

“We also want to think beyond that, so we’ll know if there are certain types of parcels that might be better suited to certain types of users. We want to anticipate the questions cities and businesses might be asking and have that information available.”

Since December, the program has worked with several business prospects, most involving Shakopee. That includes Emerson Process Management Rosemount, which is considering putting a large factory with about 500 workers on a site once planned as a complex for ADC Telecommunications.

City Administrator Mark McNeill said Emerson identified the site on its own. But he said the First Stop Shop helped the city put together an incentives plan to lure the business to the city.

Cities also are expected to refer prospective employers to the First Stop Shop for information and advice, something that Crakes said requires a different mindset for communities that sometimes compete for new businesses.

“Wherever it winds up, getting a business into Scott County can benefit all communities in terms of an improved tax base for the county,” she said.

Crakes said that recently, Elko New Market referred a business prospect after concluding it didn’t have the type of commercial space the employer was seeking.

“The reality is that not all communities can be everything to everybody. It’s a matter of taking an honest assessment of what you can provide,” said City Administrator Tom Terry.

The prospect was a light manufacturer, a business the city conceivably could accommodate in the future as industrial development moves further south along Interstate 35, he said.

Terry agrees with Crakes that having a business locate in Scott County can benefit his city’s economy even if it doesn’t locate there. In addition to boosting the county’s tax base, people could still buy homes or shop in Elko New Market, even if they work elsewhere, he said.

“It’s taking a step back and realizing what economic development really is,” Terry said.