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Brien Poffenberger: The Chamber's five ideas for EDC

April 24, 2013|By BRIEN POFFENBERGER

A community’s economic development office is its sales team, the group that projects an image, builds a brand and closes the deal. This spring, Washington County’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) is redefining what that sales effort looks like, and the Chamber of Commerce is happy to part of that process. The County Commissioners have asked the EDC to convert its strategic plan into five actionable goals, and the EDC asked the Chamber — among many others — for its ideas. Here is what we said.

The Chamber agrees with the county that long-term success will depend on attracting new companies, growing existing businesses, facilitating workforce development, fostering entrepreneurship and driving community development. In answering the current call for our top five priorities, however, the Chamber focused on the near term. We targeted our recommendations to a six-month time frame and focused on the basics. These will not necessarily make headlines right now, but every victory in the future will owe its success to these fundamentals.

The Chamber’s five recommendations are:

• Determine and fully staff the optimal organization.

The strategic plan prompted questions about organizational structure of our economic development team. The first task, then, should be to determine structure, funding, responsibilities (staff v. EDC board, for example), chain of command and metrics by which success is measured. With these definitions in place, the county should hire and make operational the structure that the EDC and the commissioners determine best-suited for our community.

• Develop a marketing plan.

The economic development team will be most successful if it has a clear definition of a) its target, b) its product, c) its message and d) its channels of communications. The county should develop a “brand” so that responses to different opportunities revolve around the same theme. Further, the economic development team should determine its target industries using analytical tools such as location quotients and market analysis to evaluate the relative success of industries in Washington County. This work will, in turn, help inform the message and determine how we communicate with potential clients.

• Build a strategic database and data integrity program.

The county’s sales team should use its marketing plan to drive specific leads and target individual site-selection professionals.  For that, it needs data-driven tools that identify the county’s existing companies and correlate those companies with likely opportunities. But building the database solves only half the problem. Equally important is creating a process that ensures that the data stays current. Success will depend on an ongoing data integrity program that leverages marketing campaigns with a feedback loop that continually updates the system.

• Sell.

With its structure, marketing plan and database in place, the economic development team should pick three industry segments and launch a strategic, proactive, outbound sales and marketing effort.  A “sale” in economic development can be a multi-touch process, and so increasing awareness both with personal contacts and with broad market positioning should be seen as fundamental to a successful sales program.

• Complete and implement an airport marketing plan.

While recognizing some overlap, the airport should remain a top priority and be evaluated as a separate initiative.  Community leaders — and the strategic plan — agree that the airport is among our greatest economic development assets. It differentiates us from other communities, gives us a competitive advantage, complements our other assets and offers readily available sites for potential clients.

As it drives change in the way we approach economic development, the EDC promises to incorporate the Chamber’s and others’ ideas into its plan of attack. We look forward to what comes next and are enthusiastic about working with the economic development team to implement its strategy.

Brien Poffenberger is president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.



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