Why economic developers should begin with WHY

Photo of Dave Parsell
Dave Parsall
July 21, 2023
Why economic developers should begin with WHY

“What’s the one thing that communities can do to stand out right now and get attention?”.

This was the final question asked to a panel of experienced site selectors during a recent webinar hosted by the Site Selectors Guild. This is what they said:

“I think it’s a compelling marketing message that really demonstrates what a community’s ‘WHY’ is. It’s got to be distinctive, compelling, and really make me say, that’s kind of interesting, I want to explore that more.” Jeanette Goldsmith, Vice President at Strategic Development Group
“Create something memorable and authentic that tells me something compelling about your community.” Didi Caldwell, President and Founding Principal at Global Location Strategies
“Show something different, show your value proposition, that’s the key.” Jay Garner, President and Founder at Garner Economics

So, what does this mean for economic developers? Here’s 3 takeaways:

  1. Economic developers must create a compelling elevator pitch for their location and make it the first thing site selectors see.
  2. An elevator pitch is a brief and persuasive narrative that you use to spark interest in your location by explaining its advantages and WHY it’s the right place for businesses to locate and expand.
  3. Including your elevator pitch in “Why Us” or “Our Advantages” section of your economic development website is an essential element to promoting your location to site selectors.
How to create a compelling WHY for your location

Promoting your location’s “WHY” is the most essential element of your website. But how do you do it? Where do you start? What should you include to make it compelling, engaging, and memorable? This article presents a 4-step process to help you:

  1. Understand your target audience
  2. Assess your location advantages
  3. Prepare your elevator pitch
  4. Update your website

I will take you through each of these steps in more detail and provide the knowledge you need to create and communicate a compelling WHY for your location.

Step 1: Understand your target audience

All successful marketing starts with knowing your customers, what gets their attention and what they need to accomplish their goals. In economic development, your “customers” are the people and businesses you are seeking to engage. Depending on the nature of your economic development strategy, your customers might include:

  • Business attraction – foreign direct investors, location advisors and corporate executives with site selection responsibilities
  • Business retention and expansion – existing local businesses
  • Business formation – entrepreneurs
  • Workforce and resident attraction – residents and workers

Identifying and prioritizing which of these customer types you are targeting is essential as each have different needs and goals. If you try to be all things to all people, you will end up creating a value proposition that is too broad. It will be so vague that no one understands what makes your location special and your potential customers will turn to other, more specific options.

Start by thinking about what appeals to your target customer and how that can match up with what your location has to offer. Put the needs of the customer first and determine the type of information that explains WHY your location can meet those needs. For instance, if your target customers are location advisors and corporate executive with site selection responsibilities there is a wealth of information available online describing what matters to them.

Each year, Area Development Magazine undertakes surveys of corporate executives and consultants to identify the most important site selection factors. The latest survey of corporate executives found the most important site selection factors are:

  1. Availability of skilled labor
  2. Highway accessibility
  3. Energy availability and costs
  4. Quality of life
  5. Labor costs
  6. Occupancy or construction costs
  7. Corporate tax rate
  8. Tax exemptions
  9. State and local incentives
  10. Inbound/outbound shipping costs

A recent survey of site selection consultants identified the top 10 site selection factors as:

  1. Labor costs
  2. Availability of skilled labor
  3. Highway accessibility
  4. Energy availability and costs
  5. State and local incentives
  6. Tax exemptions
  7. Proximity to suppliers
  8. Proximity to major markets
  9. Available land
  10. Available buildings

The Development Counsellors International’s Winning Strategies in Economic Development Marketing identifies additional items that corporate executives and consultants find useful, including:

  • Target industries
  • Demographics
  • Major employers
  • Staff contact information

Key takeaway: If you really understand your target customer, you can create a compelling elevator pitch that grabs their attention, keeps them engaged and explains WHY your community is the right location for them.

Step 2: Assess your location advantages

The next step in developing a compelling WHY for your community is an assessment of your location advantages.

Go through the list of site selection factors outlined in step 1 and identify what positive message about your community you can attribute to each factor.

Don’t worry if you’re not the best in a certain category, the site selection process is complicated with many competing factors. You won’t know what matters most to site selectors for a specific project.

For example, companies frequently select new locations where the availability of skilled labor is plentiful even though the cost of labor, land and taxes are higher than other locations.

Similarly, even if you don’t have an airport, rail intermodal or seaport inside your jurisdiction, you should still promote how easy it is to access these facilities. Leave it up to the site selector to determine whether the proximity is acceptable or not.

Once you’ve developed a list of location advantages, order them, starting with the strongest factors you’ve identified.

Key takeaway:
Match what your location has to offer with what matters most to site selectors. Find a positive message for as many of the site selection factors as you can and don’t be too critical of your location’s short comings compared to others.

Step 3: Prepare your elevator pitch

An elevator pitch is a brief and persuasive narrative that promotes WHY your location is the right place for businesses to locate and expand. Creating one requires taking your list of location advantages (step 2) and explaining them in a succinct and compelling way to your target customer (step 1).

Creating a good elevator pitch takes time, but once established, it becomes the foundation for promoting your WHY. All your marketing materials, including your website, should draw on and elaborate the location advantages outlined in your elevator pitch. The more consistent your message, the more effective it will be.

Key takeaway: Understand and document your WHY by creating a succinct elevator pitch. Emphasize your location advantages that matter most to site selectors and promote them consistently throughout your marketing channels.

Step 4: Update your website

The primary purpose of your economic development website is to promote your WHY, spark the curiosity of site selectors and keep them engaged until they are ready to short-list your location and/or connect with you in person.

The “Why Us” or “Our Advantages” section of your website should showcase your location advantages and be the first thing site selectors see when they get to your website. Other sections of your website should also seek to reinforce and expand on your location advantages as much as possible.

How your economic development website communicates your WHY also matters. The traditional approach to promoting location advantages is to use compelling branding, slogans, copy and imagery. When done well, these can be very effective at getting people’s attention. The challenge then becomes keeping their attention.

Research has found that people simply won’t stay on your website for long unless they find a reason to do so. The most effective ways to keep people engaged is to use succinct videos and a new technique pioneered by Localintel called Location Advantages Marketing.

Key takeaway: Effectively communicating your WHY on your website will help you get the attention of site selectors and encourage them to learn more about your location advantages. This in turn will increase your chances of being shortlisted or contacted directly.

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