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Economic Development 2.0

The term Web 2.0 is applied to a well-established trend in Web technology and design to enhance creativity, information sharing and collaboration among users. Although numerous Web 2.0 services have become familiar, such as social-networking sites, wikis and blogs, many have yet to be embraced by the economic development community.

The value of Web 2.0 technologies is suspect in some eyes. People’s use of services such as FaceBook and Twitter seems trivial and it’s easy to view such services as fads. Afterall, many of these media platforms may rise in popularity and then pass out of favour, one after another, so why bother learning about them?

For economic developers the significance of these communications tools and techniques goes beyond the latest buzz word. They must be viewed in a larger context that can be called Economic Development 2.0.

This new approach arises from changed economic conditions. They are at the core of the report Ontario in the Creative Age, prepared for the Ontario government by the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and released in February 2009.

“Our goal,” the report urges the government, “must be to harness and use our full creative talents, to grow the businesses and industries of the future, to use our openness, tolerance, and diversity to gain economic advantage, and to invest in the infrastructure of the future in ways that enable more innovation and economic growth . . .

“Our economy is shifting away from jobs based largely on physical skills or repetitive tasks to ones that require analytical skills and judgment. This shift is also evident in the long-term trend away from employment in goods-producing to service industries, from occupations that depended on physical work to produce goods to ones that provide service and rely on creativity. The change is inexorable. . . . We must embrace it and act in ways that create a distinctive advantage for the province and ensure our long-term prosperity.”

In step with this emerging era, and the economic downturn that is accelerating it, the theory and practice of economic development is changing. Strategies look beyond economic measures – without diminishing their importance — to include emphasis on the quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.

The key characteristics of Economic Development 2.0 are:

  • A strategic focus on placemaking — a process aimed at creating communities that offer a distinct character, a strong sense of community and a context for healthy lifestyles and a high quality of life;
  • The involvement of the community at large in investment attraction and retention;
  • Use of the Web as the primary platform for communications.

This is the context in which the use of Web 2.0 tools should be evaluated. They enable economic developers to join, and even build, communities of interest that help draw attention to their communities and the messages they want to deliver.

New forms of online content let organizations communicate directly with potential clients in a form they appreciate. And websites that are Web 2.0 enabled tend to have a very positive effect on search-engine rankings.

Here are some ways in which Web 2.0 technologies can support an Economic Development 2.0 strategy:

Wikis – These are websites that permit users to edit, delete or update the content. They are often used for intra-corporate discussions but your economic development department could set them up for purposes of listing and discussing local services and entertainment sites, or for sharing ideas on tourism promotion for your community. They can be linked to your main investment-attraction site.

Blogs – Today’s skilled young professionals often choose where to live first and then look for a job. Where will they look to find an attractive community? On the Web, where they can read blogs that reflect a lifestyle they like and a collaborative atmosphere they revel in.

YouTube – Do you have a lively community, with events that attract young people and business opportunities where clusters of creativity can grow? Then show them on videos where the world watches.

Wikipedia – This free encyclopedia has more than 1.3 million entries, all contributed by the public, and its entries often appear near the top of search-engine results pages. Look it up – is there an entry for your community? Is it accurate and complete?

Google Earth – Geographic data has always been recognized as important information to include in an investment-attraction package. Today, however, geography equates to Google Earth in the minds of young people. That’s where they want to see interactive maps and images of your community.

Social networking sites – The demographics are shifting and sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter now attract millions of 25-54 year olds, with the 55+ demographic growing in leaps and bounds. These communities enable information dissemination and global networking in a virtual environment allowing you to reach people you could never have connected with ten years ago.

In summary, the human and creative capital of our communities is now the catalyst of economic growth. Keeping and attracting people is the most important strategy in this new economic landscape. Economic Development 2.0 recognizes that, while a particular technology or service might have a limited life, social networking has become part of the economic development officer’s job, and a modern craftsman needs modern tools.

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