by Kip Rudge
As the paradigms for economic development evolve at a dizzying tempo, the toolbox used by local development offices faces inevitable metamorphosis.
The Lynchburg Office of Economic Development (LOED) and the Lynchburg Economic Development Authority (LEDA), have taken several electronic tools in their belt and combined them into an economic development version of the Swiss Army knife, said Brian Gleason, Lynchburg’s Economic Development Coordinator.
In September, the LOED/LEDA went live with a new website—www.OpportunityLynchburg.com— that combines three previous websites to give businesses a quick way to gather indispensable information. By folding three websites into one comprehensive site, Gleason says the city is offering businesses an informational resource to grow, relocate and even launch themselves.
Looming large in the city’s toolbox is electronic media, vis-á-vis the internet. Gleason is banking the flow of electrons between the city and business can provide one straightforward goal: simplicity.
“There was not a single aggregate resource for business and entrepreneurs to get information,” said Gleason. “This is one-stop shopping. … We want to create efficiency, not reinvent the wheel.”
Previously those wishing to investigate Lynchburg as a location to relocate, grow or start a business on the web were obliged to get Google savvy and correlate the pertinent info. The new website offers a gateway that eliminates the search engine. Gleason said the website caters to the three types of business situations in which the LOED/LEDA can offer assistance. The first is expanding business, the second is relocating business and the third is getting a fledgling business off the ground. Each leg of the tripod has a specific target in that the information, links and end game are tailored to the audience.
The business relocation section provides an informational portrait of Lynchburg. Along with enough numbers to encourage an algebraic vapor lock, the site provides potential relocating businesses charts and graphs that convey the essence of Lynchburg’s business climate.
“We want to provide them [with] a data-snapshot that leads to further interest,” Gleason said, explaining that the relocation aspect of the website is purely city-focused.
Since the city is essentially “land locked” and unable to expand its boundaries, the available locations for relocating businesses are limited.
“We don’t have the existing big sites,” he said.
So the LOED/LEDA is focused on attracting businesses and manufacturers who complement the existing large enterprises. Gleason explained that these satellite businesses typically have smaller space requirements.
“We have plenty of 20,000 to 60,000-square-foot facilities,” he said.
He pointed out that the website addresses real estate availability with a comprehensive commercial property database—the first of its kind for Lynchburg’s economic development office.
While the LOED/LEDA’s primary focus is on attracting new business to Lynchburg, growing local companies follows closely, said Gleason. The new website provides an information conduit to relocating firms, but the site’s draw to expanding local businesses is designed to both provide information and bring the expanding company into contact with the LOED/LEDA.
“The focus is on bringing the existing company into contact with us,” Gleason said.
Gleason explained the dizzying array of options available to firms in the process of expanding makes it very advantageous, business-wise, to consider the LOED/LEDA.
“When you consider the city’s technical innovation and vertical integration, it becomes very beneficial,” he said, adding that assistance in everything from market analysis to financing to enterprise zones is available to those seeking to grow their business.
The website puts this information at the business owner’s fingertips. But, he also emphasized that the website’s purpose in this instance is to put the growing business in contact with the LOED in order to determine the programs—be they city or state—that are best tailored to the growing business segment.
The last facet of the site is targeted at providing for the neophyte business person. Gleason said the focus of the other two facets converges for the newbies. The entrepreneur cranking up his/her business from scratch can get both information and a helping hand via the website.
“Starting a business is a daunting process,” he said. “There are a million different places to go for information.”
The website links into a comprehensive state guide to starting a business in Virginia. The LOED/LEDA resource guide provides links and data that can distill the start-up process for the budding entrepreneur. Gleason also encouraged the start-up business to take advantage of the LOED/LEDA as a resource for everything from learning to create a business plan to ferreting out financing, both government and private.
“We try to provide all the bare bone things you need to start a business,” Gleason summarized.
The retooled website has already experienced a jump in visitors and has generated optimistic feedback.
“The number of hits is up,” Gleason said. “I’ve gotten quite a bit of positive feedback in the form of emails. They like the new format and ease of use.”