The digital landscape for regional economic develop efforts is changing. Examples: ToledoRegion.com is focusing on talent attraction. RGP has new sites for international investment and national site consultants. The Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce has new branding.
Good to see more investment in digital tools and channels to support economic development efforts.
In anticipation of changes for another major player, The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, I spent some time on their various sites (ToledoPortAuthority.org, ToledoExpress.com, ToledoSeaport.org, TourThePort.com) and started decomposing what I thought were their key audiences and guesses at user goals and tasks. My first pass:
- Airport travelers, very different from the other audiences below. Mostly residents considering flying from TOL (vs. DTW) and those getting ready to use it. One important goal of the digital experience may be to make the physical airport experience better. Probably some out-of-town users, those passing thru the airport for work or visiting, so there is a chance to connect to the fun things to do while they are here (e.g., tourist bureau stuff).
- Media representatives, who need to know what is going on with the Port and whom to contact for their stories.
- The public, who has a “right to know”. Similar information needs as media (such as minutes from meetings), but I suspect there are different business requirements for the two audiences.
- Industrial site specialists, aka site selectors, looking for information on specific Port sites. This audience works a lot with RGP, so the Port and RGP sites probably need to be carefully integrated to serve them well.
- Transportation companies, of course: the port’s main customers. People who want to ship stuff through the seaport, use the airport for cargo, etc.
- Capital investors might be another audience, not sure. Since RGP has a special site for the region for that, it may make sense to put any Port info for them on investintoledousa.com.
- Regional economic development professionals, such as county and city ED folks, who need to know what is going on with TLCPA so they can do their jobs well. Some of that is “public right to know” but the really useful information will not be publicly available.
- Misc, always need a misc category. Example: someone planning a wedding and looking for a venue (believe it or not, the Port Authority has a venue to rent, too). These fringe cases are hard to deal with, but if the above list is good, there are not many cases that fit in here.
Hopefully this is a good start at looking at the Port’s web presence through the eyes of core user groups.
I started attending more economic development and planning events in October.
First, it was the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority‘s Annual Update to the Community on October 10th. The Blade and Free Press covered it. One insight on how ED works: site selectors are more like site eliminators.
Next, it was the 2013 Northwest Ohio Planning & Zoning Workshop on October 25th. I acted as the event photographer. Some of the more interesting things from the all-day event:
- The Toledo Area Partnership Project did a form of user research to get insights into what senior citizens and the disabled need from public transportation. Design charrettes with stakeholders were used to plan the Downtown Transit Hub. Nice to hear about “physical world” methods that match the digital world.
- Several different “economic development” vs. “planning” debates broke out. “Jobs” vs. “quality of life”. The traditional model is that people get a job first and move there to live, so creating jobs what you should focus on. I heard stories where today more young people are first selecting where they want to live and economic prosperity follows. For example, if enough young people start living in a downtown area, the businesses pop up to support them. We heard a story of a couple that moved to Oregon (the state) then later found jobs there. Attract talent and the jobs will follow. Of course, both matter and are related, but it was good to see some emotional debate.
The best session of the day was Jeff Schaaf, the Toledo Region Brand manager. (I am biased about the best session because I invited Jeff to present.) A few notes:
- The role of Michigan counties came up right away. Since there is funding from the state of Ohio, the counties that border Ohio are not “primary” counties in the region, but they are still included in the region storytelling
- Regional entrepreneurs have been a primary target audience of the branding efforts, but attracting talent (especially by featuring quality of life aspects) is becoming more important.
- The website and the Facebook page are still some of the biggest accomplishments. Brochures and images for groups to use in their marketing efforts are some more things they have produced.
- North design is working on the next phase of the branding efforts.
- Several audience members commended the efforts and cited examples where it has helped them. Naming the Toledo Region Transportation Coalition legislative agenda was one example.
- Getting residents to feel and talk better about the region was also cited as an important part of the branding efforts (even though it was not really in the original scope years ago).
I am looking forward to the next phase of the branding work.
My third event of the month was the NORED Showcase on October 30th. It was a fun way to learn about counties and cities in the region. Economic development leaders compiled facts and stories about their part of the region and paraded around the room dressed in ways that represented what made them special. Several featured their manufacturing leaders: Fremont/Heinz ketchup, Clyde/Whirlpool, Bryan/Spangler Candy. There were also popular culture references like Muddy & Madonna, Klinger and Sam Hornish.
The stories compiled for the showcase will be used in the Toledo region branding effort. More content, to tell more and richer stories about the region!
It was my first NORED event: I was never able to make to their previous meetings and conferences. I will try harder to attend their next one.