When building a shared vision for a thriving local economy, community engagement is a key factor in creating a cohesive city. As an Economic Development Department, you’re tasked with balancing this community engagement with local business initiatives, future development opportunities, as well as other government initiatives. It’s a tall order and as communities change rapidly, reaching out to residents can become more and more challenging.
We’ve reached out to some highly-engaged cities to hear their best practices on how to boost their community’s engagement with local projects.
Reimagining history with your community
Dallas, OR is a city about 20 minutes from the Oregon state capital with a population of 16,000. The city recently acquired an old bank building and is beginning to prepare the site to be acquired by a developer. However, as a new development opportunity, Tyler, the Economic Development Specialist in Dallas, is also using this as an opportunity to engage their residents.
“We have an idea as the city for what we want to do, but we’re really looking forward to feedback from the community on our idea and taking this really old bank building and turning it into something that can be really community-centric.“ Tyler Ferrari, Economic Development Specialist at City of Dallas, OR
The Economic Development team in Dallas, OR already use a CRM, Bludot, to manage their communications with local businesses, but you can also use that type of tool to create and send surveys to the community. With just a few clicks, you can build a survey (or use one of the templates) and share the digital link in local publications, community boards—or even send it out as a mass email if your CRM, like Bludot, is capable.
Viewing click rates and survey results make it even easier to get a sense of your community’s engagement level and what they desire to see in their city. By using this tool to engage with their community, Dallas is making sure that this historic building will remain a community asset far into the future.
Building a digital link to local businesses with community engagement
Over on the West Coast, Concord, CA’s first community engagement initiative was to make sure their residents and local businesses could find each other online. They used a public business directory, Bludot Open, to build it.
“During the early pandemic days, a lot of businesses did not have Google profiles or didn’t know where to go. So our staff put in the work and called all the essential businesses in town to get updated business hours and information that our community would need…the community really benefited from this public database, especially before businesses learned how to update their digital footprint in other ways.” Marie Suvansin, Economic Development Manager at City of Concord, CA
However, this community engagement strategy soon developed into a business engagement strategy. When the city received new ARPA funding, they were able to leverage those digital profiles into contact information, to survey business owners on how to facilitate new spending opportunities.
With Bludot, the data in a businesses’ public digital profile is mapped directly to an internal business profile in the department’s CRM. With this data, the city can send a mass email to all business owners, or they can segment via NAICS code, revenue, size, etc. By using this tool to survey business owner funding needs, you can also easily run reports to present to the city or Chamber of Commerce to support your funding decisions. Similarly, you can use this data for other community engagement techniques—such as connecting residents to minority-owned businesses, local business fundraising efforts or other events.
Engaging long-time residents with new initiatives
In the South, Celina, TX has centered their community engagement strategy around making sure all of their residents are engaged, regardless of how long they’ve been in the community.
“It is important to account for the needs of people who have been in Celina forever along with those who are just moving into our community.” Lalaina Alvarez, Business Retention and Expansion Specialist at City of Celina, TX
Keeping this in mind, they are also using digital tools like Bludot Open, that go beyond your typical search engine. As businesses build their digital profile on Bludot Open, the department can create customized views for their communities and highlight locally-owned stores.
“The public platform also has the added benefit of showing all home-based businesses within our city, something not easily found on Google.” Lalaina Alvarez, Business Retention and Expansion Specialist at City of Celina, TX
By ensuring their businesses and residents can engage with each other online, both new and long-term residents can stay up to date with their favorite local stores.
Finding the right tools for community engagement
Developing the right community engagement strategy can look different in every city. We asked Concord, CA for their advice to other cities on a community engagement strategy:
“Prioritize communication as a team and have a unified strategy on what information you want to make sure is retained, organized, and updated. By creating that strategy, it can be helpful to figure out what tools will be able to accomplish these goals.” Robert Carrera, Economic Development Specialist at City of Concord, CA
The right tool can make it even easier to get started. To learn more about Bludot, the leading economic development platform, grab some time with us here.