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 . For the un-initiated, it is a step into a virtual world of the “young and restless.” 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 page.

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

Many prospective employers scout when interviewing candidates for employment.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly from an economic development point of view, 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. 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:

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?”