When it comes to working best with site selection professionals, economic development organizations might want to be sure to enroll in two schools – the new school of information easily accessible through mobile technology and the old school of personal relationships.
A trio of veteran economic development professionals made that case in a panel discussion at the 2012 International Economic Development Council conference in Houston moderated by Aaron Demerson, executive director of Office of the Governor, Economic Development & Tourism, in Texas.
Both the technology revolution and the need for faster turnarounds on projects has made getting and keeping the attention of site selection pros more of a challenge.
In the recent past, a community under consideration for a project would have two or three days with a site selector in person to show them the real estate, the workforce data, the community and other relevant information before sitting down to talk about where the gaps were, noted Julie Engel, president and CEO of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp., in Yuma, AZ.
Those days are long gone. “Today, we get maybe a day, if we’re in an area with a direct flight. If not, then it’s a half a day because of travel,” Engel says.
Technology can fill the void that in-person site visits and fam tours used to take. Engel underscored the necessity for it, noting the increased use of mobile technology in site selection.
Engel’s advice to economic development organizations:
2. Take advantage of technology, such as QR coding of data and information, so that it can be easily and quickly accessed by mobile technology.
3. Utilize social media to provide other channels for site selection professionals to learn about relevant information and new developments. Among its social media strategies, Yuma uses YouTube channels with videos of key business and government leaders discussing specific advantages of the the community. “Social media has to be relevant or they will quickly stop paying attention,” Engel said. “Don’t waste a site selector’ time with info that is not relevant.”
4. Consider tools like Google Sketchup that allow you to mock up virtually what a project might look like on a particular parcel of land.
5. Utilize video conferencing technology such as PolyCom, Skype or FaceTime. Yuma’s conference room includes videoconference capabilities that allow the organization to bring in top business and government decision-makers to meet virtually with site selectors and provide them whatever information they need. “Technology has made us a lot more efficient,” Engel says “We need the opportunity to get as much information in front of site selectors as possible. technology lets us spend more time with them even though we are not across the table with them.”
Todd McDaniel and Jim Plump, technology is critical, but so, too, are relationships.
McDaniel, president and CEO of the Research Valley Partnership in College Station, TX, says his organization looks for projects in its target sector sweetspots – life sciences and energy chief among them – and cultivates relationships and presents relevant information to site professionals who work extensively in those spaces. ”Know the clients those site selectors represent and what is relevant to them,” he said.
McDaniel brought aboard an independent contractor to his staff who had extensive experience as a site selection consultant, a position that has now grown into a full-time job. “He can talk the talk and walk the walk with site selectors and they can engage him as a peer,” McDaniel said.
Plump executive director of the Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. in Seymour, IN, says the time demands on site selection professionals has made the once-popular “fam tour” visits almost extinct.
Communities in Plump’s region have found success in building and maintaining face-to-face relationships with site selection professionals by figuring out activities that would draw site selectors and in geographic areas the communities had identified as important and were well known. An annual gathering in a suite at a Chicago Bears game has become a highly popular and successful way to build and maintain relationships with site selection professionals, Plump said.
The last word from Engel: “Think about how you can make their job easier – always have their perspective in mind.”