How do you know when it is time for a new community or economic development strategy? Here are a few telltale signs - any one of these should trigger the development of a new strategy.
- Your last strategy was completed when faxing was the hot new technology. Or if the strategy is stored in archives, if nobody knows you have one, if you never have had one, or it is around here somewhere.
- When the majority of action plans have been implemented or addressed - this typically takes 3-4 years.
- When there are significant new opportunities and/or challenges presented in the broader economy, or in your community. For example, what new economic opportunities emerge as a result of newly installed broadband coverage for your entire rural community?
- There is a lack of focus or lack of consensus on what the economic or community development priorities are. Perhaps the current strategy has far too many strategic themes and strategies - perhaps it is not strategic at all.
- There is confusion, duplication, or worse, competition over who does what amongst your community and/or economic development partners.
My observation over the years is that the single greatest challenge to successful economic development is the lack of focus on a very limited number of opportunities. The process of developing a new strategy should solve all of the above issues and build community momentum and stakeholder support for action-oriented implementation over the next few years.
I am often asked by economic developers why a dedicated economic development site is so much better than a few pages on a municipal website. Here are 6 good reasons:
- Get found! It is much easier to find your community and site selection information on a dedicated ED website than on sub-pages of a municipal website. Consider:
- A URL that says "InvestInMyTown.ca" or "MyCityForBusiness.ca" versus "MyTown/business/planninganddevelopment/index.php?page=152?.
- Search engines are better able to deep index all pages of a dedicated ED website with appropriate page URLs, page titles, page descriptions and meta-information. This means that individual pages of your dedicated ED website will show up in search results where the query is related to page content rather than general economic development. So if a potential investor searches "YourTown available properties", the available properties page of a dedicated ED site will appear at the top of the search results. Pages of local residential real estate brokers are usually the top search results for queries on economic development pages within a municipal website.
- Over 90% of site searches begin on the web. Site selectors may tap into a content rich website 7-9 times as they move through the search and due diligence phases of locating a project.
- Messaging: Your investment is important to us. A dedicated website says that economic development is important to your community. What message is sent if economic development is buried three levels down in a municipal website, compared to your competitor's dedicated ED website?
- Ease of navigation, content organization. In today's world of site selection, it is really an exercise in site elimination, which can occur in seconds by the way! Top site selector frustrations include poorly organized content, and navigation that is not simple, quick and intuitive. These objectives are extremely difficult to achieve when ED content is part of a much larger website, over which you have little control.
- Flexibility and control of content, branding, and updates. When a clerk can't access the local network, and you want to provide an important property availability update on your portion of the municipal website, who will get the priority from the always over-worked IT staff? A dedicated ED website gives you control over content, when and how often it gets updated, and the branding to complement your marketing plan. A dedicated ED website encourages you to prepare appropriate content that is properly organized, more than a simple municipal economic development web page does.
- Integration of social media. Social media, an integral part of your marketing strategy, should be driving people to your ED website, and not be hampered by the corporate IT rules and regulations.
This is the first blog for what will be regular blogs on Cultural Planning, Creative Cities and Economic Development - including Cultural and Culinary Tourism, the Local Food Revolution, and the CRINK Economy (Creative, Innovative, Knowledge-based).
I've been working on projects with Eric and his great team at McSweeney & Associates for a while now, and we share a very similar philosophy - that strong, prosperous communities are at the core of culturally advanced communities that offer a high quality of life. So a Municipal Cultural Plan has to understand and help lead the economic development and prosperity agenda for that municipality.
This is something that some consultants don't seem to get. Cultural Planning isn't about trying to build new arts edifices or promote some exclusive agenda - it is about a holistic approach to the community's needs, recognizing the strength of building and re-building neighbourhooods, advancing an agenda of change and progress, and ensuring that culture - in the broadest definition - becomes one of the four pillars of sustainability for Canadian towns and cities.
The process must also be driven from the ground up, not imposed from the top down. In other words, a broad, open and positive community engagement process must take place, and it must be an honest and responsive process.
The end result will be a solidly-grounded, community-based vision and plan that can aid the municipal council in its strategic, economic and community efforts. It's an exciting opportunity for towns and cities, and we'll explore some of the unique benefits, procedures and things to watch out for in this blog in the months ahead.