By Lisa LaMere, Buxton Professional in Residence
Most communities and economic development organizations engaged in business attraction do a great job in prospecting for new businesses. They attend conferences and trade shows and read trade publications to develop leads. Emails and letters are sent, and follow-up phone calls are made to determine interest. Many of these efforts generate responses, some garner requests for additional information and a few may result in a site tour.
However, economic development has become increasingly competitive and not all communities see the outcomes desired by council members, economic development staff and residents alike – a new business locating in their community. The cities and economic development organizations that prevail in the site selection process more than likely have a website that is “site selector ready.”
Without immediate access to preliminary and detailed information, location consultants may not even call and simply move on to the next prospective town on their client’s list of potential locations. Your town may be eliminated from consideration before you ever know your community was on their radar. When a reported 90 percent of site selectors go online for site research and community information, a city’s economic development website is unquestionably a crucial piece in its marketing strategy.
Therefore, a corporate executive or site selector’s first impression of your city may occur while they are conducting an internet search. Today’s technology allows the location advisor to undertake an assessment of your community and discretely gather intel. A virtual street tour using Google maps will give them a feel for the character and viability of a community. Social media and local newspaper articles may yield additional clues about the suitability of a region as a new location for their client’s company. Of course, a location advisor also will expect to find a goldmine of information on a community’s website.
In the rest of this article, we’ll explore essential best practices for site selector ready websites. Please note that the following tips are not all-encompassing. These best practices are simply meant to ensure your website is site selector ready for retail and cover information you should consider, at a minimum, having on your website. Many of these tips are similarly important for industrial attraction, which must be augmented with information pertinent to the specific industrial sectors being targeted. Regardless of what your recruitment focus is, make sure the online information you provide is comprehensive, current and relevant.
1. Economic Development Landing Page
If you aren’t able to have a stand-alone economic development website, make sure you have a dedicated economic development landing page. This is an ideal place to tell your story. Use your elevator pitch as an introduction along with some general information and images of your city. Don’t forget to provide a telephone number and email address for the head of the department, not an firstname.lastname@example.org email address, or a Contact Us form.
2. Search Functionality
This may appear to be a given, but occasionally a city’s website lacks a search function. However, the most important factor to consider when setting up or refining the search function is ensuring that the search results in a link to an actual document or page with that exact information. For example, if the keyword is incentive, the search should lead to documentation in which incentives for businesses are described. Location consultants are not interested in reading through ambiguous agenda minutes summarizing discussion about approving a contractor’s incentive for beating construction deadlines.
3. Demographics and Rooftops
Site selector ready websites must contain demographic data that is current and ideally obtained from one entity, not from multiple sources. If you have economic development partners, encourage them to use the same sourced demographics found on your website.
For city and trade area data, consider using infographics to illustrate resident population, daytime population, number of households, average and median household income, median age, traffic counts or trade potential. Include links to PDFs of complete demographics and analytics for those needing the details.
Since retail follows rooftops, which adds to a community’s demographic, housing permit statistics and maps of planned developments are often necessary to retailers making a location decision. It is well worth staff time to keep these stats updated.
4. Availability of Land and Buildings
A searchable database of available sites is a great tool, but the reality is that not all communities can afford that feature. Fewer still have the staff resources to keep it current. Instead, provide a library of downloadable maps and aerials of the properties and retail centers you are promoting as locations of choice for retail in your community. Outline the properties, label streets and add a rose compass. Maps showing the boundaries of your town and your trade market area are important, as are street maps, locational maps (where your community is located in relation to larger cities) and any site plans.
5. New Projects and Testimonials
Not only will a site selector appreciate learning of new retailers staking their claim in your city, but so also will council members and their constituents. Retailers will want to know about competitors, co-tenants and other retailers with which synergy can be created.
Use video or written testimonials from new retailers recorded during groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings. Add testimonials from community stakeholders and let others market your town for you.
6. Incentives and Taxes
Location consultants will always search for incentives on your website, and even if there aren’t any community funded incentives, there probably are incentives available from county, state and federal governments. Make sure there is a page on your website that includes a brief description of each incentive, noting whether it’s applicable to a particular business sector. Links to information about taxes, regulations, tax exemptions and business assistance programs can be advantageous to a site selector making an objective comparison of your community to another.
7. Quality of Life and Workforce
Material on this page can include the availability of housing, healthcare, educational institutions, entertainment and attractions. Location consultants are also interested in workforce data. Provide statistics about educational attainment, unemployment rates and perhaps the top 5 business sectors in which your residents work. Retailers will benefit from industrial companies locating in town; these jobs increase daytime population and disposable income. Publish a list of your major employers by sector and number of employees.
Confirm with your website administrator whether redirects for specific pages can be assigned. Doing so offers a convenience for location specialists and prospects when used in emails and marketing material. A redirect such as email@example.com/econdev, or /demographics, or /incentives will help bring them directly to relevant retail site location information with one click.
For more information on marketing your community to prospective businesses, please download our report, Marketing 101: How to Attract New Businesses to Your City.