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How to Leverage Site Visit Opportunities in the COVID-19 Environment

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s we see a spike in COVID-19 cases across the country, we remember the importance of being ready to deliver vital information regardless of your industry virtually. For professionals in economic development, vital information must be made available to site selectors working with clients in making crucial location decisions.

Elevating Economic Development Efforts

The Ginovus team regularly advises and consults with communities locally, regionally, and nationally to elevate their economic development efforts.  Adapting to our first global pandemic and restricted in-person interactions has completely upended the site selection process. However, communities can still have far-reaching stories with renewed efforts that include virtual site visits and creative community tours.

When considering the baseline needs for a virtual site visit, the community must have detailed property information and photos, including aerials, available to highlight the property and surrounding features. Supplementing with drone footage can differentiate one property from another in an already competitive process. A key goal for the team should always be intriguing the site selector and their client enough to schedule an in-person visit. In addition to drone footage, video footage can be incorporated to highlight local amenities, infrastructure, and other community assets important to location decisions.  The video can then be uploaded to YouTube, offering another layer of easy accessibility and exposure online.   

Leveraging Local Relationships

Economic development teams in smaller communities or regions may be concerned about access to drone and video capabilities without an available budget for such efforts.  Since local economic development teams often have strong relationships within the community, these relationships could be tapped and leveraged to achieve mutual objectives.  For example, some communities may not realize it has a department with a drone, such as a Parks Department or Public Safety agency. By doing a little investigating, the team might find a department that would be willing to lend the economic development team its equipment for promotional purposes.  Alternatively, reaching out to a local marketing agency or engineering firm with a drone or video capabilities, may result in a mutually beneficial project to showcase firm capabilities and enhance name recognition. 

Creating Connection on a Community Tour with Social Distancing Requirements

In a typical healthy environment, the community tour would be a crucial step in the economic development process. The tour would include a drive throughout the community to highlight community assets such as cultural elements, education and training facilities, parks and recreation opportunities, business parks, new projects, and the local main street.  How does this get accomplished when social distancing is required?  Our team recently attended an in-person tour where the community used creativity and ingenuity to stay connected while physically apart.  We were all in a caravan with separate vehicles but stayed connected by phone.  The local economic development officer or LEDO pointed out the same community assets seen in a traditional community tour with everyone in one vehicle. The key is to be nimble and flexible to adjust to the current pandemic environment, while sympathetic to social distancing concerns to ensure the project team’s health and safety. 

Video Conferencing as the Next Normal

When an in-person visit is not feasible, economic development professionals have learned how to communicate with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other virtual meeting platforms. These online portals allow for the next best opportunity to connect and interact with relative ease. Creating up to date, complementary community virtual and in-person tours that highlight important features that include quality of life will help position a community as the best location for a project.

Virtual backgrounds are also a unique new feature option to brand a community and highlight unique assets. A well-done presentation should be succinct and easily tailored to specific projects.

Efficient and Effective Tours Are Still Possible

Even under the current circumstances, communities can implement site visits effectively and efficiently. The local economic development team will need to be thoughtful and strategic in its approach to create a memorable virtual visit for the site selector and project team.  Be prepared to pivot by having these new tools readily available in your economic development toolbox.