States Expand Marketing Efforts to Web

States increasingly are turning to the World Wide Web to attract and keep businesses

P> States long have battled one another to attract new businesses, and now many are adding a new weapon to their arsenal - the Internet. "Economic development is a very, very competitive business," said Jim Gardner, spokesman for Missouri's Department of Economic Development. A year ago, Missouri set up a World Wide Web page before many other states. Now states need a site just to keep up, he said.

States without a Web page are at a definite disadvantage, agreed Aubrey Haines, a principal with Impact DataSource, a Bryan, Texas-based economic development consultant. Haines said that 95 percent of the approximately 300 communities and economic development agencies he represents have Internet sites.

The Internet is quickly becoming the way businesses communicate - particularly the technology businesses that economic development officials nationwide attempt to attract. By developing Internet sites, economic development officials hope to raise the visibility of their areas. Valuable assets, such as a highly skilled work force, may not be well-known outside of a particular region, and if the Internet were not available to publicize these attributes, communities might not be considered by companies seeking new locations, Haines said.

On-line services range from the basics to the more elaborate. Many states offer data on the local labor pool or their tax structures. Some states, such as Nebraska and Missouri, let you search for property or building profiles and show pictures of the results. Arizona's home page has information geared to film and television producers who might be considering the state "as a location destination and as a permanent business address."

The Internet is "really turning into a resource that's great for getting information fast," said Sheri Mullis, vice president of J. M. Mullis Inc., Memphis, Tenn., a consultant who specializes in helping businesses find appropriate sites. However, she cautioned that state efforts to get data on-line are not moving at the same pace. Some states, such as Virginia and Nebraska, have a lot of information available, while others have not made much progress.

John Regan, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, says it's still too early to tell if an Internet presence will help states land big investments. His state's home page has been up since October 1995. Many states and local jurisdictions have put up their pages in the last six to nine months.

Massachusetts is getting approximately 50 inquiries a month and up to 200 hits a day. In Virginia, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority has received approximately 40,000 hits since its site went up May 1, 1995. These figures are small potatoes compared to hit records from other sites that have a broader appeal, such as ESPN's site or any of the searchable indexes. However, the states seem happy with their results.

One big advantage is that the Web allows states to disseminate information internationally. But overseas businesses are not the sole target of a Web page.

The Internet also gives local businesses an easier way to access area services. An economic development official works with businesses already in its jurisdiction to ensure that their concerns are met, said Patricia Woolsey, chairwoman of the Fairfax County Economic Development Commission, the governing body for the Economic Development Authority. One of the most popular features at the Fairfax home page is a business database that allows users to locate suppliers and vendors in the county. County-based businesses that are not included also can add themselves on-line. Fairfax also offers meeting or convention planning assistance. Their site offers a hotel database, as well as information on unique meeting places, maps and public golf courses. The Internet also makes sense financially, state officials say. In Massachusetts, the Office of Business Development received a $1 million appropriation for fiscal year 1995. They received half of that for fiscal year 1996. As a result, the state is dropping its print advertising, said Regan. Instead, it will continue to use direct mail and rely more on the Internet. Developing the site was free. Inner Circle Technologies, now Novalink USA Corp., in Westborough, Mass., created the site as a public service. In Missouri, the Department of Economic Development received a $200,000 grant from Union Electric Co. to help set up its site.

A Sampling of Economic Development Sites on the Web

Arizona Department of Commerce

California Business Laws and Service


Fairfax County Economic Development Authority

Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development

Massachusetts Office of Business Development

Missouri Department of Economic Development

Texas Department of Commerce

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