SD: Joining forces – Economic development groups launch regional website to attract and expand business
Thursday, December 13, 2012
By: Kris Bevill, Prairie Business Magazine
For rural community leaders, the task of promoting their towns to prospective businesses in a global landscape can easily make one feel as though they are the needle in the proverbial haystack. There may be a number of project developers and businesses seeking compatible sites that would make a great fit with the community, but drawing site selectors’ attention to lesser known regions of a state with minimal resources can be a gargantuan challenge. Many economic development divisions in rural communities consist of just one person working with a tiny operating budget. How can they compete with more populated regions of a state and stand out from the crowd?
In northeastern South Dakota, 16 small communities stretched across 30 counties and GROW South Dakota have come together to combat that challenge through a collaborative web-based economic development portal designed to entice site selectors to their region. The South Dakota Prairie Gateway website — www.SDPrairieGateway.org — provides information related to real estate, available work force and incentives packages for the entire region as well as for each individual community. It is believed to be the first project of its kind in the U.S. to promote an entire region through the combined efforts of the area’s communities.
Communities involved represent an extremely rural region of the state. Aberdeen, with an approximate population of 25,000, is the largest community affiliated with the project. Funded in part by a $149,000 grant from the USDA Rural Development agency, South Dakota Prairie Gateway’s mission is to attract and expand businesses in areas that may not otherwise have the means to effectively promote their strengths to prospective businesses, according to Paula Jensen, funds development director for GROW South Dakota.
GROW South Dakota served as the project developer for SDPrairieGateway.org. Little Falls, Minn.-based Golden Shovel Agency was selected to create and manage the website and social marketing plan. Jensen says Golden Shovel won the project because it is focused solely on economic development. “Golden Shovel has a network of national and regional economic development partners, years of experience in the industry and tailor their web development to economic development organizations,” she says, adding that because the majority of site selectors seek initial information about communities from the Internet, a website is a community’s most important business recruitment tool.
Social media has become a crucial aspect of a web marketing plan and that phase of South Dakota Prairie Gateway’s project began in late July with the launch of a Facebook page and Twitter account. In late August, Jensen said the impacts of those efforts had been growing weekly.
Ultimately, Jensen and others involved the Prairie Gateway project would like it to serve as a model for other rural regions of the prairie to emulate. “It’s obviously something that can be replicated,” she says. Prairie Gateway developers are willing to provide guidance and documents to economic development groups in other regions to give them a head start with their own plans. “There’s no need to create the wheel again,” she says.