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Virtual Meetings

You’re at an international trade show and you meet senior executives from a company interested in finding a location for a North American regional plant. The traditional next step might be to persuade them to make a personal visit to your community. But is that the way to go any more?

No, the way to go is the web. So why not set up a virtual meeting between officials of the company and your investment attraction officials? This, in fact, should be your next step.

You can arrange for a face to face meeting, with documentation that everyone can refer to at once on the screen, in a fraction of the time it might take for the company’s visitors to travel to your community. You will have an immediate advantage over any competing communities who continue to wait until travel schedules can be accommodated before fully introducing themselves to prospects.

Wait times are the enemy of business success. That’s why the exploratory stage of investment attraction is primarily a web activity today. Early communication and decision making can take place based on timely information flowing over the web, after which personal relationships can develop. Virtual meetings are part of that trend.

In their 2011 book Economic Development Online, US authors Anatalio Ubalde and Andrew Krueger describe the advantages of conducting meetings on the web:

“A web meeting will cost a few dollars or a few pennies depending on the service you use. That’s a lot less than flights, hotel accommodations, etc. You can do a lot more web conferences in one day from your office than you can face to face. You could literally have web conferences in which you start your first fam-tour (familiarization tour) on the east and follow the sun as it moves west, scheduling several meetings in one day.”

Growing Market Share

Virtual meeting technologies are now proven and well entrenched in the market. There’s lots of competition and prices are falling. Though the technologies are not being used to their full extent in economic development, they are becoming routine in the corporate world.

As reported by www.CM-W.net, adoption of meeting technologies is growing fastest in the US, Western Europe, Russia and South Africa. Forrester Research estimates that the US virtual meeting market will be worth $30 billion annually by 2020.

George P Johnson’s 2010 Virtual Market Outlook Report found that 70 per cent of large companies run virtual conferences and 83 per cent of respondents took part in a webinar within the past year before the survey.

For economic developers the most important impact of virtual meeting technologies could be to help regain momentum in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). There is reason to believe that more competitive approaches are needed to reverse a decline in North American FDI volumes and market share.

International marketing expert Ed Burghard, writing in his Strengthening Brand America blog (http://strengtheningbrandamerica.com/blog), notes that the latest figures show that the inward flow of FDI to Canada and the US (“Brand America”) stands a distant third to that of Brand European Union or Brand Asia.

In this situation, technologies that speed and simplify the decision-making process for foreign companies can only be helpful.

In a commentary about the US Commerce Department’s SelectUSA website (http://selectusa.commerce.gov), Burghard blogs: “It is important to acknowledge that Brand America’s share suggests we need to do a better job competing for FDI and then take decisive action to reverse the share decline . . . Brand America’s declining share suggests we are losing the First Moment of Truth too often.”

Virtual meeting technologies can help EDOs to present the First Moment of Truth to prospective foreign investors with relative ease. One type of technology that appears set to grow substantially consists of meetings applications. Using apps such as Citrix’s GOTO Meeting, GOTO webinar or GOTO Meeting with webcam, EDOs can arrange meetings inexpensively with people all over the world.

Up to 15 people can download the free meeting app and get together on their computer or mobile device like the iPad through a link to their invitation e-mail. They can then view slide presentations, design mock-ups, present spreadsheets and reports or share whatever the meeting presenters choose on screen. Meetings or presentations can be set up on short notice and polls can be included to gather instant feedback.

Use of webcams is optional but can add another more personal touch. Webinar software can enable presentations to specific companies about the benefits of locating in a community. Stakeholders can register via an icon on the EDO website or email invitation, and can log in from the comfort of their own offices without travel.

At a time of reduced budgets, escalating travel costs, less time to close deals and build relations, and when every type of competitive advantage is needed to attract FDI, economic developers can expand their reach through easy to use virtual meeting technologies.

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