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Mobile Apps for Investment Attraction

Citizens of the City of Boston can be in touch with their local government wherever they go. At the City of Boston’s official site, citizens can download the Citizens Connect App to their phones and easily report potholes, graffiti and other service-related issues to City departments for resolution.

Launched in 2008 and upgraded since, the Citizens Connect App is part of a suite of mobile applications that Boston expects to develop and release to the public. There’s no app for economic development yet, but it’s instructive to read a statement made by Mayor Thomas Menino on June 22, 2011, when Boston added a new feature to Citizens Connect to enable citizens to report missing or damaged street signs.

“We continue to look for new ways to use technology to make government even more accessible and more responsive to our constituents,” Mayor Menino said. “Citizens Connect has been a valuable tool for the City and this new feature will allow us to more effectively monitor and respond to these issues.”

Mobile App Usage is Growing for Citizen Engagement Projects

Municipalities everywhere are recognizing that mobile apps are a popular and effective way to engage their target audiences. In February 2011, Arlington, Texas launched a mobile application to give users access to municipal services, report problems, apply for permits and pay bills and tickets. It was downloaded thousands of times within days.

Trey Yelverton, Arlington’s deputy city manager for economic development, was quoted by KMWorld as saying that city and state governments have no choice but to get on the mobile app bandwagon.

“This is not a passing fad,” he said. “I have seen enough movement in the last 18 to 24 months to convince me this is a real shift. If you don’t get out on this playing field soon, you are going to be way behind the curve.”

Mobile Web for Economic Development

Economic development communications are moving toward multi-channel mobile delivery. To be competitive, an organization needs to deliver its content through as many channels, and to as many target audiences, as possible. People are coming to expect organizations to offer mobile apps and/or mobile websites.

Site selectors and entrepreneurs, like business people everywhere, are increasingly using mobile devices for business purposes. However, many economic development organizations have yet to consider how they, too, might use these tools to achieve their strategic objectives.

“To Build an App or Not to Build an App?”

As mobile app and mobile web usage increases, forward-thinking EDOs are recognizing the necessity of addressing the mobile delivery channel and asking the next question: “To build an app or not to build an app?” In other words, should we build an app or focus on making our existing website mobile friendly?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. In determining the right approach, the EDO has to evaluate the various facets of their own economic growth strategy, the target audiences and key messages that need to be communicated and match these with the right delivery channels – maybe an app will do the job, maybe a mobile-friendly website will do it.

At a tactical level, development of mobile apps tends to work best for highly structured content that changes often, such as articles or listings. The app should be designed as something the user will access on a regular basis. Users will probably not download an app and keep it on their device if they have no reason to use it frequently or regularly.

For instance, a mobile-friendly website would best be used for displaying information about a community’s quality of life and demographics, since that information changes infrequently. For data about property listings, however, a mobile app could be a more powerful tool for a user, since it can provide easier direct access to a dynamic resource that is frequently consulted.

But there’s more to economic development than demographics and properties. It’s equally important to address business retention strategies, workforce attraction strategies and creative economy development strategies. With their hands-on, mobile go-anywhere character, apps have a place here:

  • Engaging businesses and increasing retention — Can an app be used to promote your local downtown or retail zones? Could it be used to retain talent in small towns by increasing connections with employers? Could it serve as valuable eyes and ears to generate ideas and feedback from sources you might not find otherwise?
  • Workforce Attraction – Can an app be used to connect businesses with your local students or talent? Can it be used to attract talent back to your small town? Can it be used to create relations between post-secondary’s and local business?
  • Saving money – The cost of fielding inquiries could potentially be cut by using mobile apps. In Charlotte, North Carolina, a mobile app called “My-Charlotte” gives users access to traffic, transit and airport information. Whereas a typical call to 311 costs $4.91, an inquiry through the mobile app costs less than 75 cents, the Charlotte Business Journal reports.
  • Attracting business through tourism – Mobile apps by destination marketing organizations are proliferating as social media become key tools for the industry (please see Trends in Social Tourism Marketing; published March 8, 2011). If tourism falls within the scope of your economic development organization, you can widen your business audience by offering tourism information and services through mobile apps connected to a database on your economic development website.

In short, EDOs need to consider the use of mobile apps and determine if or how they might contribute to achieving their goals. Economic development is about people, about creative economies, about attracting young, bright talent. EDOs with vision and awareness of the expectations of citizens, and the strong trend toward the use of the mobile web and mobile apps for citizen engagement, will come out ahead.

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