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What Social Collaboration Means to Economic Development

Communities everywhere are trying to build their local economies based on attracting young professionals and the innovative companies of tomorrow. How can economic-development practitioners play an integral part in this mission?

In addition to their traditional tasks, such as marketing available properties and lobbying for incentives, today’s economic development practitioners should see themselves as catalysts for economic growth through social collaboration.

For innovation to thrive, there needs to be strong collaboration among stakeholder groups, open lines of communication, links between the public and private sector, and an understanding of the role that government must play. These are areas in which the economic development practitioner is typically the expert. The practitioner understands the needs of the business community and the capabilities and resources of the public sector, and therefore can provide a communications bridge.

Since the Internet has become the number one tool for businesses and site selectors in their location search, it has to be the foundation for your communications strategy in two ways:

  • Providing a primary vehicle for the dissemination of facts, stories and anecdotes about your community and its entrepreneurs, so as to inspire and attract others to locate their businesses there;
  • Establishing a shared vision for the future of a community and involving local stakeholders in the achievement of that vision.

Social collaboration is a necessary part of the process of modern investment attraction marketing. In an earlier article in this series we described this process as a distillation — finding the essence of what makes a community attractive, what kinds of business investment it wants and what characteristics are being sought by its target industries, then promoting key messages in a way that brings that community to the fore.

This evoked a wise response from Dave Quinn, executive director of the Levelland Economic Development Corp. in the City of Levelland, Texas:

“It is important to view economic development as relationship building from the inside out. Utilizing new media resources, economic development professionals must understand that we are selling a story or a perception, not just hard assets. We must open up our daily lives and let prospects share in the ups and downs so that they can truly understand the intangible benefits that they will receive from locating in our community

. . . .
“Using blogs, social media and interactive websites will be a must if a community wishes to compete in today’s economic times.”

The City of Levelland’s economic-development website, www.golevelland.com, is an excellent example of how such sites should be structured to encourage social collaboration as well as to directly promote business investment.

On the home page is a prominent link to a section called Levelland Live. Viewers are invited to “blog with us, share videos and photos of Levelland.” The economic development blog is called Progressive on Purpose and it is full of postings, photos and comments. Posts can be viewed by month and by popularity. Tags are added to help readers find key topics.

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