So it may surprise you to learn that our most popular blog post of 2015 by far, was this post on common economic development mistakes, illustrated by cat GIFs. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions from that. Although I enjoyed the many comments and shares, it quickly became clear I'd unwittingly stumbled into a contentious divide. Dog owners everywhere were up in arms, wondering why I'd excluded their four-legged friends. Dogs, they claimed, were at least as expressive, clever and funny as cats, if not more.
Now, as a dog and cat owner myself, I would never choose one creature over the other. My own pup briefly gave me the cold shoulder himself (at least until I offered him a liver treat). So in the interest of fairness to pet owners on both sides of this furry divide, I humbly offer you a blog post with economic development pro tips, illustrated this time by GIFs featuring man's best friend.
Don't hobble yourself. If you aren't doing effective marketing for your location online, you are losing leads without even knowing it. Back in 2011, we released market research that showed that 97% of site selectors use economic development marketing at some point in their research. It's safe to assume that in 2016, that number would be 100%. If potential investors look for key location data on your website and find outdated information, gaps in data, or static PDFs with long lists of numbers, your community may well be excluded in favor of the many others who provide this information. The County of Riverside Economic Development Agency's ZoomProspector Enterprise application ensures that all the relevant data about their available sites and buildings are aggregated with up-to-date information about demographics, consumer spending, labor force, business, industry, infrastructure and more.
Work what you've got. One of the most important things to understand about economic development marketing is what aspects of your location deserve special focus. Some communities have it easier, because of geographic features, existing industry clusters, existing prosperity, or persistent elements that attract desirable talent. Other locations need to dig a little deeper to find and highlight the things that matter. The truth is, investors aren't always looking for the obvious. They may be simply thrilled to learn have a large, vacant manufacturing facility with 14-foot-high doors. Or they may like the proximity to a key rail line, or a young and growing population. Kat Long, Small Business Manager of Ponca City (OK) Economic Development Authority explained in a recent webinar that she plays up her community's geographic uniqueness, "We like to say that we are within walking distance of nowhere, but 100 miles from everywhere." Make a list of features that may be appealing to businesses, and be sure to get them out there on your website and online material.
Be creative. Sometimes you have to find innovative solutions to common problems. Don't be afraid to try new things, or depart from the usual script to get people's attention and make your point. Like, oh I don't know, writing a blog post full of animals doing silly things, for example. I've seen some wonderful ideas from our clients, from site launches in movie theatres and baseball stadiums, clever use of social media, innovative website design and more. There's more than one way to... um. No. Not going there.
Don't forget mobile. Our 2016 data shows that up to 28% of economic development website visitors are using mobile devices to research locations. If your website and GIS site selection tool aren't completely optimized for mobile, you are turning valuable traffic away. Ever try to zoom and click on a non-optimized website while on your smartphone's small screen? Really frustrating, isn't it? Our ZoomProspector Enterprise application is both fully optimized and fully featured on mobile. Visit Ga-Sites.com from your smartphone to see what I mean.
Cooperate with other stakeholders. Small town or big city, economic developers don't work in a vacuum. Build collaborative relationships with local government, chambers of commerce and tourism departments. You can link to each other's websites and share data and valuable content. One of my favorite examples of this is the town of Newell, Alberta in Canada. Their OpportunityNewell.com website is designed so that when one area creates content, it populates the websites of the others. They still get control over their own domains, but it allows them to keep websites fresh and direct interested visitors to the right places, without any frustrating online hunts for information.
Enjoy the ride. Even if people don't always quite understand what it is you do, know that you are making the world - and your location - a better place. You will be even better at your job if you enjoy its challenges and opportunities.
Work efficiently. Most ED profs need to wear lots of hats simultaneously. They may be working with government, commercial brokers, site selectors and local businesses. The amount of time that can go into researching and analyzing data about your location can be a big drain on resources. Our clients tell us that they put their Intelligence Components, ZoomProspector Enterprise and SizeUp LBI applications to good use internally as well. It's kind of like having an extra employee (or three) around the office. One who never takes vacation, calls in sick or finished the last of the coffee in the pot.
Watch out for hidden obstacles. Not to mention the not so hidden ones. Like not including your contact information in an obvious place on your website. Or not telling people where your community is located (that investor from the other side of the country - or the world - may not be too familiar with your state's geography). If you aren't offering significant information about your community in obvious places on your website, you are missing obvious opportunities.