By Pete Julius

Didn’t we hire you to bring jobs into our community? How much new capital investment has been made since you have been with this organization? What are you doing to proactively market our community? How are our competing communities doing?

Do these questions sound familiar?  Most economic development practitioners hear these questions from their boards on a fairly consistent basis.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how other professionals respond to these questions? Answers from the field could give us some very useful information.  Which communities are most successful? What measurements do they use to gauge success? What practices work best? How do organizations get evaluated? In conjunction with IEDC, we are collaboratively working with economic development practitioners to find out the answers to these and several other questions.

We initially asked various top economic development officials across the country how to proceed with this project.  In the course of these initial discussions, we discovered many sensitive issues that threw up difficult obstacles to obtaining accurate, not to mention helpful, results. 

For instance, it may cost one community more to generate a lead than it does another community.  If your board, or for that matter your community, ever heard that you were spending more per lead than another community, how much more pressure would be put on your job?  The intent of this project is to assist organizations in finding out the best marketing practices and figuring out ways to measure the effectiveness of their marketing programs, not to create more trouble!  Another struggle is that we discovered that there are no common practices or terminology within economic development.  For example, how many different definitions exist for a lead? These are just a couple of the issues and obstacles that our research project with IEDC is trying to resolve.  Our initial collaborations have also raised the following important questions:

  •  How do you track leads/results? Where do they come from?
  • How do you quantify leads?
  • What are your primary and secondary measures?
  • How do you currently measure results?
  • What are your direct/indirect marketing costs?
  • What are your biggest challenges? Where do you need the most help?

We facilitated a discussion group at the recent IEDC conference in Cincinnati to tackle these questions.  Fifteen people, a mix of economic developers and consultants from small communities to large metro areas, attended the forum.  These were some of the key points and questions raised in our discussion:      

  • There are no common definitions within economic development
  • There are no benchmarks to compare marketing effectiveness
  • There are no best practices for economic development
  • How do you determine what to spend on which marketing strategy, where do you spend it, and for how long into the future do you plan?
  • Does the structure of your organization make a difference (i.e. public/private, attraction/retention, etc.)?
  • How do you get on the short list and what do you need to do to close the deal?
  • What marketing strategies and what combinations produce the greatest results?
  • What gets done internally and what gets done externally?

Of course, these are just a few of the major areas that need further discussion.  Over the course of the next year in conjunction with IEDC, we will continue to collaborate with economic developers to gain a better understanding of the best marketing practices and how to measure their effectiveness. The results will not only benefit economic developers, but consultants, too, as we learn to better assist you with your marketing efforts.  Our next steps in this research project fit the following calendar:

  1. Over the next couple of months we will compile and distribute an initial electronic survey to focus and define appropriate questions and their wording for the main survey
  2. We will present & discuss our results at the 2004 IEDC Leadership Summit in St. Petersburg, FL
  3. We will compile the main survey, based upon results from the Leadership Summit forum
  4. We will send out the survey around March of 2004
  5. We will present the results of survey at the 2004 IEDC Annual Conference in St. Louis, MO

We strongly encourage you to participate in this project.  In addition, we will do our best to get everyone involved.  IEDC’s participation in this project will help us accomplish this feat.  If you have any questions and/or wish to be an active voice in this project, then please feel free to email me (  Your participation and sharing of knowledge will help to produce the best results for this project.