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Key Takeaways From the 2023 IEDC Annual Conference

September 26, 2023 Dillion Roberts

City of Dallas, Texas, skyline with the IEDC Annual Conference logoThis year’s International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Annual Conference in Dallas felt like a major success to me personally: I participated in my first panel, had the opportunity to meet with some amazing like-minded people, and bonded and strategized with our team.

Because we scheduled meetings in advance, we were also able to complete ProspectEngage™ demos with potential clients, which generated a great response and has already resulted in one new client.

We also met with state and economic development leaders from all over the country to discuss our service lines, such as strategic planning, workforce development, impact analysis, entrepreneurship, and more.

On the second day of the conference, I participated in the panel at the “Building Resilience Through Community Broadband” session. In addition to myself, the panel featured Bill Sproull and Mignone Hollis and was moderated by Anne Cosgrove from Business Facilities magazine.

We focused on what rural communities can do to help their chances of receiving funding by doing things like challenging the FCC’s broadband maps. These maps dictate how much funding a community can receive and can have a major negative impact on communities seeking to improve broadband access for its residents and businesses if they’re wrong.

We also covered the many different funding sources available to communities for broadband deployment, as well as which funding programs would be better for rural communities (such as the USDA Reconnect Loan and Grant Program). We talked about the fact that the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) funding will likely not “hit the streets” until 2025, with the application process happening right now.

We asked attendees two poll questions. The first question was “Has your community applied for at least one funding source to build or improve broadband infrastructure?” We were surprised to see a tie between “Yes” and “No,” with one person indicating that they started but hadn’t completed the application process. This indicated that many communities are at different stages when it comes to deploying broadband.

The second question we asked was “What is the biggest challenge that your community faces when it comes to broadband access?” Responses included:

  • Funding
  • Support
  • Lack of access and competition
  • Adoption in underserved communities/Building trust in underserved communities
  • Providers’ deployment of infrastructure
  • Coordination with the state
  • Education/Maximizing resource providers to share the program with residents
  • Understanding existing coverage gaps/Issues with the FCC maps
  • “Last Mile” to individual homes in rural areas

Many of these challenges are issues that each state broadband office should be planning for and working on as part of the requirements to access BEAD funding.

I recommend that communities contact their state broadband office with questions about these types of challenges. Or you can contact our team at Camoin Associates to discuss these challenges or your community’s broadband strategy.

Another major topic we discussed was the broadband workforce challenge. Once BEAD funding is released, a shortage of 205,000 workers needed to meet new industry demand is expected. I discussed several workforce strategies that can help communities prepare for and meet this demand:

  • Promoting broadband career awareness and exploration
  • Coordinating training and creating career pathways in the broadband sector
  • Leveraging partnerships in the community to create a talent pipeline
  • Reducing barriers to hiring and employee retention

These were all strategies that Camoin Associates recommended to the Maine Connectivity Authority as part of the broadband workforce development strategy report we created for them recently.

Our panelists also provided the attendees with some additional resources for information about broadband deployment, including:

  • Pots and Pans Blog: The mission of CCG Consulting is to provide traditional and cutting-edge services and solutions to the telecommunications industry that support the long-term success of their clients in a competitive communications environment.
  • Benton Foundation: The Benton Foundation works to ensure that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance our democracy. They pursue this mission by
    1. Seeking policy solutions that support the values of access, diversity, and equity
    2. Demonstrating the value of media and telecommunications for improving the quality of life for all
    3. Providing information resources to policymakers and advocates to inform communications policy debates
  • Broadband USA Community Planning Broadband Roadmap: A toolkit presenting the planning steps necessary to create a Community Broadband Roadmap, it offers tips and advice from Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grantees and provides links to other resources and tools. The goal is to help communities expand broadband access locally to create jobs, improve educational opportunities, promote economic development, spur private investment, and facilitate the delivery of essential social services to their residents.
  • State Broadband Office Directory: Up-to-date information on individual states, their broadband offices, directors, and grant programs.

We also briefly discussed how important it is for communities to realize that not only do residents need access to broadband, but all types of businesses across nearly all industries now require broadband access to operate and expect it when seeking to relocate or expand their businesses. Examples include:

  • Agriculture: Precision sowing of crop seed
  • Healthcare: Digital and telehealth
  • Manufacturing: Automation and process and logistics management
  • Fishing: Species monitoring
  • Retail: eCommerce
  • Construction: 3D printing of critical supplies and structures
  • Life Sciences: R&D and diagnostics

Because I primarily work on the business attraction services our company offers (ProspectEngage™), I know that it is extremely important for the above-mentioned industries (and many others), to have high-speed broadband access. To meet businesses’ needs, here are some specific recommendations that you can use to help communicate your community’s broadband capabilities for business attraction purposes:

  • Create a digital map of your community’s broadband Infrastructure.
  • Create digital brochures and marketing materials.
  • Host virtual tours of your community’s broadband infrastructure.
  • Partner with local businesses and organizations to create case studies and testimonials related to their experience with broadband in the community.

I was able to attend a few other sessions at the conference, as well, with DCI’s “Winning Strategies in Economic Development Marketing” being a standout for me. Here are the key takeaways I brought back from that session and their free report:

  • The internet has become an indispensable tool for companies searching for new facility locations. According to a recent survey, 84% of respondents rated their internet usage a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale during their most recent location search, up from 80% in 2020. This reflects the growing reliance on digital tools for site selection research.
  • Interestingly, corporate executives reported increased internet usage compared to location consultants. Eighty-six percent of corporate executives gave their internet usage a 4 or 5 rating, up from 79% in 2020. In contrast, only 78% of location consultants gave their internet usage the same high rating, down slightly from 82% in 2020.
  • Websites play a crucial role in location decisions today. An economic development organization’s (EDO) website serves as its “digital front door” and can make a strong first impression on site selectors. The survey showed that 73% of respondents are likely or very likely to visit an EDO’s website during their next search, although this was down slightly from 2020.
  • EDO websites are especially important for location consultants, with 84% reporting they are likely to visit during a client project. For corporate executives, 69% said they would likely visit an EDO website.
  • With more site selection research happening online, EDOs must prioritize having an attractive, informative website. This will allow them to put their best digital foot forward and effectively market their community’s assets to potential investors. As the internet becomes more ubiquitous, an EDO’s website may be a company’s first encounter with a location under consideration and it needs to stand out.

Because of the importance that is placed on your EDO’s website, I believe that is just as important to monitor the activity on that website and have a strategy in place to be able to generate leads based on those visits.

We know that 98% of people who visit websites do not submit a request for information or a contact form, which means that most visitors are going completely untracked and representing an enormous number of missed opportunities.

Camoin Associates provides a solution to this issue with our ProspectEngage™ platform, which monitors your website, identifies business visitors, provides enhanced information about them, and determines if their visit is part of site selection research. ProspectEngage™ allows you to proactively influence that decision by identifying and engaging with business leaders in your target industries the moment they first visit your website.

Reach out to me to learn more about ProspectEngage™, schedule a short demonstration, or learn more about the free 30-day trial we are currently offering.