Last week we posted some of the responses to our survey of Ohio municipal economic development professionals regarding economic development activity (websites, staff time, etc). The survey group included city/village managers/administrators and assistants, as well as ED directors. In some cases, I have abbreviated the questions.
#5 – What amount of staff time is spent on R&E visitation programs dedicated meeting time, follow up, etc)?
- Do not have a program 34.9%
- 1-2 weeks per year 9.3%
- 3-4 weeks per year 14.0%
- 2 months a year 14.0%
- 3 months a year 27.0%
#6 – What percentage of your agency staff time is spent on pursuing prospects?
- 0-20% 48.8%
- 21-40% 44.2%
- 41-60% 7.0%
#7 – What percentage of your agency staff time is spent on reacting to RFP’s/RFI’s?
- 0-20% 76.7%
- 21-40% 20.9%
- 41-60% 2.3%
It is interesting that 1/3 of the respondents do not have a retention/expansion program – in fact, I would call that alarming. One-third are not actively engaged in communicating with their local industries – the economic backbone of their community. I do have to rhetorically ask if this is because those communities have delegated this to county ED agencies? Which, I would still find alarming. As a person once told me, if you are not at the table, you are on the menu. In other words, if you are depending on your county agency to do all your work for you, you are going to get very little in return.
Oh, I am sure that will anger county ED officials, but let’s be honest, if Community X has delegated all ED activity to the county and Community Z is going with county officials on R&E visits, who is going to be perceived as (1) more involved; and (2) more ready to react to a possible new company? Those of you who do not have programs or are relying on the county need to get involved. If you are not sure how, please call us or call any of the OCMA members around you. They can tell you – any of us can help you set up a program (heck, we can do it over the phone for free – yeah, I think it is that important to be doing).
It is also interesting that nearly half of the respondents are engaged in pursuing ED prospects up to 20% of the time and and the other nearly half between 21-40% of of their time. These are some very active agencies. Equally interesting is that over 3/4 of respondents spend up to 20% of their time responding to RFP’s/RFI’s. Approximately 21% spend up to 40% of their time answering these inquiries and an 2% of officials spend up to 60% of their staff time responding to ED requests. While I am sure that these percentages relate to size of agencies and staff, it is good to see communities actively engaging in ED activities. Of course, it is still important to note that 80% of economic development activity is within one’s own jurisdiction — whether it is retention and growth (and keeping them in town) or helping new companies get started. (There is another survey on that at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/D73SKQT
Considering these statistics, it is apparent to me, the economic development has become and is a basic municipal service, as relevant as police, fire, public works, zoning and recreation. In these times of cutting budgets and austerity, it is important that ED agencies also be sensitive to and also aggressive in utilizing public funds. And the biggest bang of the buck is going to come from the website, not the printed material. I base this on the next paragraph.
I posted this question on a number of LinkedIn groups recently: As local government economic development officials, which do you find is the greater expenditure (value) of dollars: print media or putting information on the agency website? How do Councils view it?”
Interestingly, from a value perspective and ROI, the majority of comments are leaning heavily to website presence for economic development and that community sites should include testimonials from community businesses rather than the editorial information that local government officials churn out on their ED web pages. At the same time, many respondents do advise that there is nothing like face to face communication.
This underscores my previous blogs on the importance of municipal ED websites and having the best current information available — especially since 90% of site selection work is done on the web! It further underscores the importance of R&E programs which the majority of respondents understand and engage a significant amount of time.
According to Jonathon Bittner: “Speaking for my organization, we’ve moved from a print driven approach to an entirely electronic marketing and outreach strategy over the last year. The new model in our office is: if you can’t track it, don’t do it. With e-newsletters we can see who opens it, which links they click on, how long they stay on the article, if they forward it to someone else, etc. Same goes for our website content. And it’s much cheaper to produce and send out than printed content: no postage, no printing costs, no paper, etc. especially if you can do the design in-house.
We use the analytics we collect to determine the best time to send out our emails (early morning), which topics are trending at the moment in our community (in-state gas pipeline/tech sector) and which recipients are are our most active forwarders (so we can target them for additional outreach and engagement). Add that to a well developed social media strategy and you’ve got an unprecedented ability to analyze and measure your messages’ effectiveness.
The only thing I can measure when I send out a print piece is what time it’s picked up by the postal service and how much it costs me to send it out. ”
Dean Barber has added: ” Your assumption, of course, is that advertising works, that it is or can be effective for economic development organizations. I don’t know what your message is, but if it is like most, it will be lost in the clutter.
I think most economic development organizations advertise simply to placate the home team. They are under pressure to do something, to show that they are trying.
A good website, however, can be helpful and can make a difference if it cuts down on the rhetoric — don’t say you are the best fit for everyone — and provides truly useful information that provides a deeper and clearer understanding of your community……
Also, the story cannot be cliche. If the story (or website) is simply, “We got a great work ethic, a great quality of life and a central location (relative to who?),” you are going to be hardpressed for an outsider to read that. ”
I would also encourage you to look at the various economic development groups on LinkedIn. There is a great amount of information and advice for your agency and program.
Of course, what would our blog be without a pitch: one of these pieces of information that will aid your website is our BARC service, of which one site selector called a “world class” tool. We can also help design and place relevant information that will help present your community’s advantage for that prospect that is looking at your website but not calling you…until the very end of the process. And as Steven Forbert once sang, “If you do not play, you cannot win.”