Posted by jaynehrkorn in Chamber Life

Budgets are tight, and shelling out dollars to send executives to conferences might be a hard sell to many chamber boards right now. Some may see travel costs for conferences and visits as an unnecessary expense in this information age, but according to one site selection professional and public incentives expert we spoke with, face-time with other decision makers is much more valuable than you might think.

A recent discussion with Jason Hickey, of the Hickey & Associates consulting firm, about the site selection process led us to the topic of marketing venues for economic development agencies. Along with other important activities like maintaining a top-notch website and distributing materials, Hickey stressed that meeting in person and establishing relationships is also an important part of bringing new businesses to town.

“Making sure that site selectors and companies have that information top of mind – like knowing that X community is focusing on bio-science if I’m a bio-science company – that could definitely be helpful, but I can tell you that site selectors and companies get inundated with a lot information,” Hickey said. “Our firm is a little unique because we take that and actually collect it and put it into a database, which is a little bit different than most folks do. We like to trend the happenings of different economic development activity, what’s going on now to hopefully trying to predict what will be going on in the future.”

Hickey explained that while they capture the data that comes to them through newsletters, updates, announcements, and web research, what they really appreciate is the chance to spend time with the people they could potentially be working with on behalf of their clients.

“It sets people apart, the better website and the more information you have there, but nothing beats face to face. Even with all of this technology – email and cell phones – we’re still very relationship-based, and so conferences are the best venue. They’re definitely the most cost effective for economic development and chamber entities, because you’ve got a venue with a whole bunch of companies and consultants like us in the same room.

“The two largest ones are CoreNet and the Industrial Asset Management Council (IAMC). Those match up economic development and chamber groups along with actual company representatives and folks like us who are representing companies as consultants. Then there are some smaller ones, but just as important. Business Live Exchange is another one, Area Development Magazine puts on a venue, and there are some smaller ones that are mostly for economic development folks matching up with site selectors like us.”

Hickey points out that regional one and two day conferences and summits are also valuable venues that make both public and private sector decision makers accessible.

“Nowadays, for chambers and economic development agencies, you need to spend your dollars wisely, and at those venues you can keep in touch with as many people as possible for low cost,” he explained. “These are critical decisions for corporations large and small. Now more than ever they have to make sure they’re making the right investment and have the best planning both short and long term, so having these relationships with local people is extremely important because you get to know them and you build rapport with them over time… When company representatives can meet someone, even if it’s just over a cup of coffee, they’ll remember that interaction and it becomes part of their network. So those venues are important, and if a community can afford it, going to visit people in their offices is very valuable as well.”