Recently Economic Development Data Services surveyed members of the Ohio City Management Association using SurveyMonkey. Members of OCMA consist of local government administrators (city, village and township), including assistant managers, department heads. A series of questions were asked about the use of websites, budget expenditures and the competitiveness of the ED environment in Ohio. the first question asked:
1. What percentage of your city/village/township website is for disseminating information for and attracting economic development to your community?
Responses were as follows:
- 0-10% — 53.5%
- 11-20% — 26.6%
- 21-30% — 9.3%
- 31-40% — 0%
- 41-50% — 2.3%
- 51+% — 9.3%
This is an interesting response. On the one hand, local government websites should be used to disseminate information to the communities served. That point really is not arguable. However, given the importance of websites in the area of economic development (see the recent MAEDC Site Selector Survey – I can provide a copy by emailing EDDS at firstname.lastname@example.org), the majority of OCMA communities are not taking advantage of their websites relative to economic development. I think it is safe to say that the OCMA responses would hold true for the majority of non-OCMA member local governments in Ohio.
I would argue that the roughly 20% of respondents who focus over 20% of their websites for economic development are utilizing their websites effectively for economic development. Research indicates that 90% — 90% — of economic development site selection work occurs on the web with site selectors using community websites as primary research in finding appropriate locations for their clients.
60.5% of respondents indicated that hits to their economic development main page are not tracked. This also is curious. The majority of communities are not able to evaluate the effectiveness of their economic development websites. Of course, the idea of tracking the number of hits can be a dubious exercise – how many hits are good? How many hits have resulted in the location of a new business? These are metrics that economic development staffs will want to begin to track to determine the effectiveness of their websites and budgetary contributions to the website. These numbers need to be reported to the City Council and community to provide a context of accountability and just maybe to heighten that importance of economic development websites, their content, maintenance and use of new web tools.
Given the above data it is not surprising that 86% of respondents reported that 10% of economic development budgets are spent on websites and print media respectively. (Less than 15% indicated spending up to 20% of budgets for websites; and 15% reported spending 11%-30% of ED budgets for print material). It is not surprising as more often than not, ED functions are one person, or are part of the duties of an assistant city manager, who is also tasked with other duties; therefore the bulk of ED budgets are for personnel. I would argue that an even distribution of paper and website expenditures is off balance. Again, given the research, communities would be better spent re-distributing these scarce budget funds in favor of the economic development website than printed material.
As much as organizations move to a paperless (or less paper) environments, it makes sense for the ED budgets to do the same. Further, ED agencies not only need to move to a greater use of the web, but also a greater use of i-pads (or similar), and smartphones — tools that can be used in the field, directing potential clients to the website. Dare I say it, the print media is more of a feel good technology than a website that provides instantaneous information that does not have to be carried, etc. People looking to move, grow, relocate, etc., are going to the web. Direct them to your website. Track the hits. Survey the new businesses as to how they got the best information.
Don’t misinterpret what I am saying. I am not advocating an impersonal approach to economic development. The MAEDC report indicates that person to person is still the optimal approach when prospecting or reacting to RFIs and RFPs. Concurrently, have the best available technology that your community can afford. And in these crucial economic times when decisions are being made – budget cutbacks, layoffs, decreases in service, etc., – I will argue that providing for economic development, job growth and job retention is a crucial municipal service.
The next blog will review how this group views economic development competitiveness within Ohio. If you want full survey results, they will be posted on the CDJ/EDDS website next week (January 9, 2012).