The Ides of March have come and gone, and I have come to praise economic developers and not to bury them.
For I once was one, and I like to think that I understand the pressures and the challenges that they face.
Still, I must tell you that economic developers will do things that leave me scratching my head and wondering, “what were they thinking?”
And sometimes, I have concluded that they just weren’t.
And I understand that, too. Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit, which is a helluva admission coming from a consultant. Or from anyone for that matter.
So I received this email. I am not going to identify the economic development organization, because my purpose here is not to embarrass. For all I know, this ED group might be representing an exceptional community to live and work. Actually, I suspect it is so.
The original email asked that I “nominate excellence” and then vote on and attend “the second annual business awards” event for a small rural county in the Midwest.
Now I have never set foot in this community, and the truth is that I probably won’t unless it is at the bequest of a client for business purposes. That client could be a company that has hired me for locational analysis or the ED organization itself needing help.
My point is that as I am not a resident of the community and certainly not equipped to nominate or vote on any business to win an award there, I should not have received the email. Rather, it should have been directed to an internal audience, knowledgeable stakeholders within the community.
What’s more, I am not going to travel 1,000 miles to attend a two-hour local business awards ceremony. Ain’t gonna happen.
But I Responded
Now I could have let it go. I probably should have let it go, but I get so many of these same kind of emails, that I thought maybe I could turn this into a teaching moment. So I replied grumpily to the ED staffer who sent it to me:
“Just curious. Why would I have received this email? Isn’t this for internal stakeholders?”
Rhonda’s response (and that’s not her real name) was revealing in that she didn’t quite understand what I was trying to communicate. And that was partly my fault.
“You must have connected with our executive director at some point and we added you to our news/distribution list. I have removed your email from our list so that you will no longer receive news and updates from our organization.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s not what I am asking. So I replied back to Rhonda:
“I like receiving news and updates from a community when it is relevant to me in my role as a site selection consultant. I like to know of project announcements. Please understand that I am not asking to be removed from all your mailings.
“What I am suggesting and what I do not think is too particularly hard to do is to differentiate communication between internal and external stakeholders. If you do that, you will not be irritating site selection consultants like me. Thanks. – Dean”
Hooray, They Got It!
The next email took me by surprise, as it was from Rhonda’s boss, the executive director of the ED organization. The way I see it, “Jim” must be a pretty good boss, for Rhonda to share our email exchange with him. His email to me:
“Hi Dean, Jim Williams (again not his real name) here, executive director. Thank you for your constructive feedback. Thanks also to you, we have now started a “site selection consultant” list which we will target for when we have project announcements. Though I don’t always have a chance to read them, I enjoy receiving your LinkedIn blog posts. My Best, Jim.”
Now it’s obvious that Jim and Rhonda talked this out and it clicked. It took a little nudge from me, but they got it.
Now I am happy for them and for me. They no longer send me pointless information that I cannot use, but they do continue to stay in touch, which is what I want.
Dean’s Last Resort
Occasionally, very occasionally, I have had to unsubscribe from emails received from ED groups. That is a last resort measure that I hate doing but I felt that my hand was forced.
It happened with an economic development organization in California and another one in Florida. In short, they kept sending me inappropriate emails that would have been appropriate to people living in their communities.
I pointed this out, but to no avail. Nothing changed. I kept getting junk, typically invitations to breakfast and lunch events. Sadly, I had to cast them adrift.
Last month, a major regional ED group sent me an email with the subject matter: “Reserve your table for the 2015 xxxxx Awards Luncheon!”
My reply: “Thank you for the invitation, but I usually do not attend luncheons that are 2,000 miles away from me.”
This past week, I got an email from another economic development organization, to “participate in xxxxxxx University’s Strategic Planning Survey.” The questions were obviously targeted to those living in the community and not to a consultant in Dallas.
How Hard Is It?
I asked Ron Kitchens, chief executive officer with Southwest Michigan First, why he thought I continued to get these type of senseless emails from economic development organizations. He replied with his own question, which was really a brief answer and exactly to the point.
“How hard is it to sort out a database?”
How hard indeed? Frankly, I don’t think it should be difficult at all, and yet so many ED groups won’t do it. It leaves me baffled, and I’ve talked to other consultants who feel the same way.
Do Stay in Touch
But again, I want to reiterate that I welcome emailed communications from economic development organizations. I actually save these emails in an Outlook folder, as they could prove very helpful to me at future date.
I want to know about won projects and even lost projects. I want to know why a company chose to expand in your community and if an exceptional building or site has become available.
I want to know about workforce training initiatives and if an industry cluster has developed in an area. I want to know how and why a community has targeted certain industry groups and what progress has been made.
In short, I want economic development organizations to stay in touch with me and provide information that I might be able to actually use. And if they come to Dallas, I welcome the opportunity to meet with them if I am available. And I will try my best to be available.
Just don’t invite me to a breakfast or a luncheon a thousand miles away. That accomplishes nothing, junks up my email, and leaves me irritable.
So sort that database, give me information that I can use, and everything will be gravy.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 972-767-9518.