Sunday, February 06, 2011

Social networks useful to EDCs

By Stephen Williams (Contact)
Gazette Reporter

CAPITAL REGION — When the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal ran articles last fall about GlobalFoundries and eastern New York’s growing reputation as a high-tech hub, the stories were spread around the world within hours.

Using article links posted on websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the Capital Region’s economic development boosters put those stories in front of a worldwide audience.

They do the same thing with articles from the local papers they think are worth sharing, along with press releases, economic announcements and their own commentaries — finding a wider audience for things that might previously have reached only insider audiences.

“We post interesting articles,” said F. Michael Tucker, president of the Center for Economic Growth, a regional development organization in Albany. “It gives you a chance to recirculate things.”

That’s an example of how social networking websites aren’t just for teenagers and technology geeks anymore. With their enormous audience (Facebook has 500 million users), such sites are where a growing number of organizations involved in economic development — the promotion of new business for the region — are trying to put their region’s best face.

According to a recent survey by the International Economic Development Council in Washington, of the hundreds of local economic development organizations across the country, 57 percent now use social media.

The Center for Economic Growth and Saratoga Economic Development Corp. are among those that regularly post items on such websites. Such organizations have their own websites for those who want to search them out, but social media sites can reach a wider audience.

“It certainly helps us raise awareness about our events and activities,” Tucker said.

The Saratoga EDC is using social media to reach out to the kinds of technology-oriented companies that are going to be following GlobalFoundries into the region.

SEDC started making intensive use of social media about a year ago, as part of its marketing strategy.

SEDC’s leaders say the initiatives draw attention to a county that is trying to market itself as business-friendly to a tech-savvy global audience.

Dennis Brobston, SEDC’s president, said, “For my money and for the time we spend, we’ve gotten very positive feedback from companies interested in coming to the area.” SEDC expects to have a “very active year” in 2011, he said.

That’s because of the companies in the supply chain for the $4.6 billion GlobalFoundries computer chip plant under construction in Malta. They are expected to start selecting locations in and around the Capital Region this year. Over time, supply chain companies are expected to create 5,000 jobs, in addition to the 1,400 to 1,660 jobs expected at GlobalFoundries.

“We’re having a lot of conversations, and a lot of companies are looking at space because of their relationship with GlobalFoundries,” Brobston said last week.

Some of those conversations have started after companies checking out the Capital Region from afar used the Internet, much as prospective homeowners might when looking for a house.

less airport time

For years, SEDC officials traveled to semiconductor industry trade shows on the West Coast and in Europe, looking to promote the Luther Forest Technology Campus, where GlobalFoundries is locating. Attending such shows and meeting people has been an essential part of economic development marketing.

Increasingly, though, companies will have checked the county’s resources out on the Internet before they even call, said J. Shelby Schneider, SEDC’s director of marketing.

“I’ve found social media to be an extremely effective tool,” said Schneider, who oversees SEDC’s day-to-day social networking.

A three-minute promotional video made last spring highlighting Saratoga’s quality of life and the arrival of GlobalFoundries has been viewed more than 3,000 times on YouTube, she said: “It’s been viewed around the world. We’ve had viewers in Singapore, in Germany, in Saudi Arabia.”

The worldwide viewership may reflect where GlobalFoundries already has a presence: It has manufacturing plants in Dresden and Singapore, and the majority ownership is a technology fund in Abu Dhabi. Employees at the other plants are being recruited to come to Malta for the plant start-up work later this year. The plant is scheduled to start test production in 2012 and commercial manufacturing in 2013.

Economic developers said one of their most effective tools is LinkedIn, a professional networking site.

SEDC’s LinkedIn group has more than 900 members, Schneider said — including 200 with some sort of semiconductor manufacturing connection.

“When we go out to trade shows, we invite people to follow us, and they do,” Schneider said.

Sites like LinkedIn can be a two-way street, with professionals sharing problems and solutions, said Tucker, of the Center for Economic Growth.

“I can throw out a question and economic developers all over the country will respond, if they have the time,” he said. “Or I can be a good Samaritan when someone else has a question.”

Schneider said maintaining a Web presence for SEDC doesn’t necessarily take up a lot of her time: “First thing in the morning I’ll read the regional papers online for any stories to share, and then the national papers.” Then, throughout the day, she uses features like Google Alerts to allow her to learn about and then post breaking news stories.

Melanie LaRose, who maintains CEG’s social media, said she works on it every day but it requires only a few minutes of her time.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to promote ourselves, and it creates a viral buzz in our region or even worldwide,” she said.

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