Case Study: Clearwater, FL's Vision and Direction for Business Attraction and Growth
Clearwater, Florida is a coastal city in the Tampa Bay area. The city is known for its beautiful beaches, warm weather, and vibrant tourism industry.
Below is our conversation with Audra Aja and Stephanie Scalos from the Economic Development Department who share their strategies and initiatives for attracting new businesses, creating jobs, and boosting economic growth in the city.
Tell us a little more about Clearwater!
What is your role and how long have you been with the city?
What’s your community known for?
Audra: One of the first things that people think of when they think of Clearwater is our beach – Clearwater Beach is frequently ranked the best beach in the nation- so people come here on vacation, but once they are here, they recognize what a great place this is to live. We offer a quality of life that people seek and they wonder how can I make where I'm on vacation a place where I can also live. That is when they begin exploring business opportunities and that's where our department gets involved – trying to help them locate in our community, and showing them all of the different resources we have to support businesses.
Stephanie: I’ve been with the City for almost 4 years. I’m the Business Retention and Expansion Coordinator, so I like to call myself the “business liaison for the city”. I establish relationships with obviously our top employers and I also do what you call “cold calling” but I'm trying to sell anything. I, for example, go to an office complex and knock on doors and introduce myself, I give businesses a point of contact with the city even though I may not be the right person for their specific need, I can point them in the right direction. There are times when they don't even need something city related, but I can still assist them in other ways like connecting them to resources such as the county or local colleges to help with workforce needs.
Audra: I have been with the city going on 10 years. My role is Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Economic Development Division, and that entails supporting the department’s efforts to recruit businesses into our community by telling the story about why Clearwater is a great place to start, grow or expand a business. I focus on creating marketing strategies, collateral, writing articles, and digital advertising to tell our story and promote the amenities and quality of life that Clearwater has to offer, and the programs and resources we have to support businesses and retain businesses once they are here. I also promote real estate development and investment opportunities in our city.
Can you tell us more about the business attraction initiatives that have been successful for your department and your relationship with business owners?
Audra: We are currently running a campaign that is focused on increasing awareness about the development and investment opportunities along the U.S. 19 corridor, which is a north-south bound commercial highway with businesses and retail establishments, and is ripe for redevelopment. In February, we launched a visualization campaign with renderings and a 3D video taking viewers on an animated tour of the corridor and highlighting four hypothetical redevelopment scenarios of existing parcels to show their development potential. These sites do not represent any proposed projects or plans and are not approved by property owners. It is for illustrative purposes only.
Stephanie: [On Bludot] I love that I can easily send out an e-blast. I often times get information about a job fair from local resources and I know HR people would want to attend, especially our manufacturing industry which is constantly looking for people. I can use Bludot to send that information out quickly. For cold calling, I use a postcard with my picture on it that I call my “realtor's card” that has a few bullet points about what I do, and hand them out on the visits. Because it's not just my business card people hold on to it and I'll get calls at a later date when they do need assistance with something.
Can you share more about the incentives and grants you offer to businesses?
Stephanie: A lot of what we can offer our resources through the county such as a program called the Employment Sites Program, which accepts applications at certain times of the year to assist with projects. For example, if there's a gap in funding because maybe they have to do extra work to bring something to code, it's to help bridge that gap.
Audra: We tap into different programs that are available at the State and county levels, and then through our CRA they have a set of programs available to those located within their geographical boundaries. Through our Housing division, we have federal funds that can be used in our neighborhood revitalization strategy areas to support business growth. We also have a Brownfield Program so if someone is looking to locate a parcel that needs remediation, we have grant funds available to help with the testing and things like that.
Can you tell me about how you conduct business visits? Is it a template, how do you run them?
Stephanie: I have established relationships with our top employers. I created a top 50 list that I try to engage with several times a year. Aside from that, I just go to an office building or go to an office park and stop by to establish those relationships that way.
We have a key manufacturing area and I made it a mission last year to really dive into that area. I still have yet to touch every business.
Audra: We target certain primary industries, which are our top priorities. Industries such as information technology, manufacturing, life sciences, financial services, or corporate headquarters. We use Bludot to narrow down the NAICS codes of businesses that we're targeting, which is really helpful.
Could you tell me a bit more about how you are using Bludot and which features benefit you most:
Stephanie: I love that the reporting features are so easy. I like the labels-- if I just want to target certain industries, I can blast something out to them. Or if someone wants to know how many manufacturers we have in the city, I can quickly run a report to get that figure. I put notes in Bludot from my business visits and meetings, and sync all my emails.
Audra: When we migrated to Bludot, what we really liked was the ability to add custom layers to sort data to meet our needs. We found Bludot to be very instinctual and a very user-friendly CRM solution.
How did you hear about Bludot?
Audra: We received some information about Bludot and then heard a neighboring community was using it and decided to check it out.
What initiatives is your city going to be working on in the upcoming year? What advice do you have for others?
Audra: Some of our team members are looking to use the database in new ways, For example, adding prospects that we’re trying to attract in the corridors we are looking to develop. My advice is to think through how each of your team members works and how Bludot can be used to simplify processes and streamline data.
Stephanie: From a business attraction and retention perspective, when we transferred our data into Bludot and compared it against the data Bludot provides, I was able to see where businesses are located that I didn't even know existed. Now I have a clear plan when I go out on visits to meet these businesses and introduce them to the resources we provide.