SmartLeads Limited Edition Database Subscription can assist you in finding your best business opportunities! 6-Month & 12-Month subscriptions available. Call 616-786-2500 today to reserve your spot!

Yearly Archives: 2007

Building Relationships Using Web 2.0

by Dean Whittaker

Economic Development is about relationships. They are built on trust, respect, and commitment. New tools have emerged in Web 2.0 (the evolution of the internet) to foster online collaboration and social networks. Applying these new tools to economic development offers interesting challenges and opportunities.

Recently, Whittaker Associates has assisted two clients to create social networks of their community leaders and prospective company leaders. By connecting community leaders with CEOs of prospective companies based upon common interest, we can facilitate the creation of new business relationships. One benefit to this approach is that it engages community leaders more fully in the economic development process and gives them a meaningful role to play. In addition, business networks bypass many of the filters in an increasingly noisy ad-cluttered world clamoring for our time and attention.

These social networks connect people and build relationships based upon common interests and in many cases common values. Why? Well, for one reason, we tend to do business with people we trust. Social networks are in essence a referral system based upon virtual introductions by people we trust to people we would like to know.

There are three examples of emerging Web 2.0 social networks. The first is www.MySpace.com . For the un-initiated, it is a step into a virtual world of the “young and restless.” Myspace.com has 21 million users (most in the 18-25 age bracket) and is growing at the rate of 150,000 per day! The website was sold to News Corp. for $580 million last July. It represents an enormous opportunity to market to this crowd of predominately young people and is now the fourth most popular site on the Internet as it creates networks of friends. Do you want to better understand your children and their friends? Check out their MySpace.com page.

The second is www.facebook.com . This site caters to college students by offering a way to connect via the college attended. Much like MySpace.com, it offers the user an opportunity to share a personal profile of interests along with a network of relationships.

Many prospective employers scout facebook.com when interviewing candidates for employment.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly from an economic development point of view, www.linkedin.com is designed to facilitate business relationships. By creating a user profile of business contacts, user expertise, and type of business opportunities sought, it provides a business referral network. Linkedin.com operates on a subscription basis and is often used to connect with potential new clients. Like the previous two networks, it too is often frequented by headhunters to identify job candidates.

In January of this year, I had the opportunity to present “Collaborating through Technology” at the International Economic Development Council Leadership Summit along with two of my colleagues, Joel Burgess , VP Economic Development at Whittaker Associates, and Mark James, President of ED Solutions. In our presentation, we discussed social networks, collaboration tools, and their use in economic development. You can view the presentation at: www.whittakerassociates.com/resources.htm.

Applying social/business networks in an economic development setting is at the forefront of Internet technology. They will accelerate careers and are a precursor to the “always connected” era that we have entered. Is it time for you to get “connected?”

Where Does Your Loyalty Lie?

By Jami Miedema

Ford. Built Ford tough. Honda. Technology you can enjoy. Mercedes-Benz. Unlike any other. Volvo. For life. Toyota. The best built cars in the world. So, what kind of car do you drive? How long have you stuck with that brand?

It’s that time again. The lease on my vehicle is coming to an end, and now I have to decide my course of action. Although in past years it was a difficult task, this year is different. I used to be swayed by the endless options that different cars offered: sunroofs, heated seats, cooled glove boxes, even the navigation system that I so badly need. But now, none of these amenities have the power to persuade me to change from my current brand.

Why is it that we stay loyal to one brand? Is it because we love their product so much? Is it the reliability of the merchandise? Or is it because they have outstanding customer service? Chances are, these reasons are factored into our choice of brand, but moreover, customers want to receive the same loyalty that they give to their preferred brand.

Although I don’t expect perfection in every product I buy, I do expect fair compensation when a mistake has been made. Whether it’s a waived fee, an added perk, or a simple apology, these gestures can go a long way to make customers feel like they are appreciated. As long as a company is willing to invest in its consumers and go above and beyond to see a problem through to success, they stand a chance at gaining my loyalty.

Easy-Bake Printing

By Rebecca Rooy

It’s a big day. It’s a day where you need more than just your talent, intellect, and charm to survive. The prescription for this challenge? Your favorite lucky shirt. The shirt that makes you feel empowered the second you slip into it. But wait, what’s this? You’re missing a button? And you, along with everyone else in the consuming world, threw out those extra buttons to your shirt long ago because after a few months, you couldn’t even remember what shirt they went to, and they were merely floating clutter. So, what to do? Frantically logging on to the website of your favorite shirt designer, you make a quick and pleading request for a new button to an online operator who works around the clock. Your plea is accepted, your credit card charged. And then … you press print.

It’s described as the corporate action of “Easy-Bake Ovening.” Imagine: a three-dimensional printer. The truly surprising part? It actually exists and works during this present day. Although the above situation will take a few years before full development in the common household, such printers are available for approximately $15,000. In fact, these machines, which are also called rapid prototypers, have been in use in industrial design shops for practically ten years.

Immediately, notions of teleportation come to mind when envisioning that day-changing button appearing out of a printer. Although the concept is fascinating, this magical button would be created in a physically ordinary way. These 3-D printers form objects out of material particles similar to how a current printer forms images out of ink specks. The material itself is already existent within the printer. In simplistic terms, the 3-D printers build models of the actual objects by using layers of either a powder or a liquid form of nylon and plastic. This material is hardened and shaped into diverse forms by the exact application of heat, chemicals, or light.

Many computer games, design, and creation programs are already being developed for average consumers, based around 3-D printers. There are many opportunities in the high tech world that will soon be based off of this refined printing expertise. Just imagine what may be created next after your new button is safely fastened to your favorite lucky shirt.

Hansell, Saul. “Beam It Down From the Web, Scotty.” The New York Times. 7 May 2007.

Scratch

By Joel Burgess

Mitchel Resnick, one of the researchers at the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT’s media lab, has developed the new software application Scratch.

Primarily aimed at children, Scratch does not require prior knowledge of complex computer languages. Instead, it uses a simple graphical interface that allows programs to be assembled like building blocks. The digital toolkit allows people to blend images, sound and video.

“Computer programming has been traditionally seen as something that is beyond most people – it’s only for a special group with technical expertise and experience,” said Professor Mitchel Resnick. “We have developed Scratch as a new type of programming language, which is much more accessible. . .With Scratch, our goal is to allow people to mix together all kinds of media, not just sounds, in creative ways,” said Professor Resnick.

“With Scratch we want to let kids to be the creators. We want them to create interesting, dynamic things on the computer. Kids make programs by snapping blocks together,” said Professor Resnick.

Objects and characters, chosen from a menu and created in a paint editor or simply cut and pasted off the web, are animated by snapping together different “action” blocks into stacks.

So, for example, if someone wanted to animate a cat walking across the screen, they could modify the move block to tell the cat to walk forward 10 steps. If they then wanted the cat to bang a drum as it walked, they could stack the play-drum block underneath, choosing a sound for the instrument and how long each beat should last. Other actions, such as speaking, changing color or triggering music, can then be added to complete the animation.

“Kids like to share stuff on the web and I think that is a very strong element of Scratch,” said Professor Nigel Shadbolt of the University of Southampton and President of the British Computer Society (BCS).

He believes that it will be a useful tool for teaching children about computational thinking and enthusing “the next generation” of IT professionals.

“The thing that’s very difficult for children encountering programming for the first time is that it is very unforgiving,” said Professor Shadbolt.

“A program doesn’t congratulate you for the 90% that you got right. It fails for the 10% you got wrong. So an environment where you are essentially assembling components that can only be configured in set ways takes some of that hardship away.”

Scratch is inspired by the method hip hop DJs use to mix and scratch records to create new sounds.

Scratch may only be scratching its potential. Visit Scratch at: http://scratch.mit.edu/ to learn more and to download the software for free.

Source: BBC News & Scratch Website

Who Benefits Most in a Public Site-Selection Process …The Winner? … The Loser? … Or Maybe Both?

By Jim Edmonson

The publicly conducted site-selection process for the ThyssenKrupp AG project is over, and Alabama appears to be the winner in the fight for what many say is the biggest industrial project in U.S. history. ThyssenKrupp AG has chosen to build its 7-million-square-foot steel-production mill on 3,500 acres 25 miles northeast of Mobile. I say Alabama appears to be the winner because we won’t know the economic outcome for years. ThyssenKrupp will invest $4 billion on construction, employ 2,700 at an annual payroll cost of $150 million, and spin-off an additional $1.2 billion in state-wide business sales, generating up to 50,000 indirect jobs. Wow! Congratulations, Alabama!

At least, I think. I can’t help but think about the costs of this “win.” For starters, the incentive package that attracted ThyssenKrupp is estimated to cost local and state government and school districts $880 million.

Other “costs” of the process concern me. First, the process openly and publicly pitted communities against one another for a project that was going to be placed in the U.S. anyway. I am not saying that economic development negotiations shouldn’t be a competitive process–while many believe competition among communities should be neutralized with the establishment of standard incentives, I don’t. But this process took it to another level, and just being in such a contest ran up the tab for the state, school districts and local government in particular. If the project had landed in Louisiana, it would be responsible for an incentive package that would have totaled $1.6 billion. I pray for the Alabama communities that the mill will stay competitive long enough for state and local government and citizens to capture the benefit. For-profit corporations often close doors faster than they open them when they sense any hint of weak market conditions or their inability to compete. Call any community in Michigan and see what over-dependence on one industry will do to you in the long run. Let’s hope that will not be the case for Alabama and the impacted communities.

Here’s another potential economic development minefield: if everything goes as planned, what about accommodating the new growth associated with the development: new roads, infrastructure, commercial development and residential subdivisions? Did state and local governments take the cost of sprawl into account? Will this growth be sustainable? Growth for growth’s sake does not happen without accumulating some losses along the way. One need only look to Canton, Mississippi, to witness the urban sprawl occurring around the Nissan facility and get an indication of the planning and cost involved. Neighboring communities are affected as well–just observe the exodus of business from traditional business centers near Jackson.

Finally, will communities near the mill target the right businesses, ones that will have an interest in locating near the mill and have a strong stake in staying around? Although the economic development rush will be on, it may be appropriate to just say no to some deals and wait for an opportunity that better fits the dynamics and capacity of the community.
My last question is could Americans have gotten a better deal? Without a doubt.

Here is how ThyssenKrupp rated each state as reported by the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Port Access: Advantage Louisiana
Land Characteristics: Advantage Alabama
Electric Rates: Advantage Alabama
Incentives: Advantage Louisiana
Power Supply: Advantage Alabama
Track Record: Advantage Alabama

Alabama looks like the winner on this project, but Louisiana may be the ultimate winner. Louisiana has an attractive site to market and multiple prospects have lined up. Some prospects are in industrial sectors better suited for long-term investment, with facilities that generally won’t close on weak market conditions and the wages paid from these projects may be higher than ThyssenKrupp’s. If an oil refinery were constructed on the site ThyssenKrupp targeted, it might invest less (say $1 billion) and employ fewer workers (paying them 10-20% more per job), but require a much lower incentive package (costing the state and community less). In the long run, a smaller, more suitable project could win Louisiana increased economic wealth and stability.

Of course the devil is in the details. One observer of the process claimed that ThyssenKrupp missed the subtle points involved in operating a business in different locations in the U.S. I find this to be one of the more important lessons of the deal: the conduct of business in each location is different and ThyssenKrupp may not have emphasized that point enough. The result remains to be seen.

Hats off to all the contestants. Let’s hope your next deal is negotiated in private.

For comprehensive target industry attraction programs, project negotiation assistance and smart growth advice, contact the team at Whittaker Associates.