I was watching a webinar sponsored by GIS Planning (www.gisplanning.com) on Vimeo.com. The webinars cover a wide variety of ED topics. Two that struck me focused on internet use for R&E and growing local businesses, and the perceptions of small versus large cities (or metro areas) and in making websites more user friendly to site selectors.
The first video noted that big cities (and in my term, metro areas), have both positive and negative perceptions and that small and medium sized cities can combat their negative perceptions – especially if they are not well known. The trick is how to overcome a lack of name recognition, or worse, not being known at all. As I mentioned the topic of the webinar was aimed at the use of social media and the internet to retain, expand and grow local businesses; the second dealt with making the website more user friendly to site selectors and here is the two videos intersect.
It is interesting that the question raised and the answer provided follow stories in various online development magazines, blogs and LinkedIn conversations for the past few months. The internet and social media are quickly becoming key economic development tools and can provide a lot of heavy lifting in any economic development strategy; further, that site selectors are using websites almost exclusively to weed out communities to arrive at the final list of acceptable sites. Here are the chief lessons from the current professional literature:
Small and medium sized communities have the opportunity to compete with the metro areas by using online technologies: websites, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and others. Websites do not have to be fancy; however they need to look professional and not like they were designed by a high school student who just learned how to make websites (eliminate things that spin, flash, change colors or provide cheesy instrumental music). Quality of life is important, and economic development facts and data need to have equal billing…DATA IS KING! This means that the economic development data must be easy to find – not more than one click to reach the main ED information. The ED main page needs to include local information relating to demographics, taxes/utility costs (preferably in a calculator format, not a narrative), trade access (highways, ports, major rivers, proximity to airports and markets), school rankings (with links to the school district), testimonials from company leaders, owners and managers, housing information (all levels of housing – the jobs being sought require places to live) and quality of life components that are inviting to a younger population.
Relevant maps are critical. If at all possible, do not provide the maps via a pdf that take the reader to another page. Contract with a vendor that supplies GIS information locating buildings, sites, sales/rental information, property conditions). There are about five or six major vendors in this market and they all provide excellent products. Having said this, the maps need to include areas that have tax abatement programs (i.e., CRA), special zoning incentives (i.e., overlays), etc.
Available properties and buildings need to be listed; it is best if they are part of the mapping pages. Photos are great – but include data on property contacts, sale/lease price, square footage available. Addresses are very important to have. There are a number of very good real estate mapping and location programs available.
Site characteristics are related to the real estate mantra of “location, location, location.” Site selectors want to have information related to zoning, wetland locations, Phase 1 or Phase 2 study information, distance to highways, market area. Again, this information is usually included in the programs mentioned in the above paragraph.
The ED main page should have more than just links to county or state agencies. I have found that these links refer one to another main page rather than to one with the needed information. Further, the perception is that the local community is really not interested in or vested in economic development. It is always good to partner with the county/regional ED agency – and they may be the lead agency by design – but all towns need to show that they are actively part of the program. The local leaders are going to be dealing with the company on a day to day basis, not just the one or two person county ED agency – as is the case across the state of Ohio.
One final note, your website often what site selectors use to gather data AND evaluate of your community as a potential site. What does your community have to offer to a business, in a business like manner? What are your business assets? What can your community offer that will help a business make money and reduce their cost? Frame your community with the right information in the appropriate format, using the above information.