Columbia's REDI team seeks improved Web site

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Creating a one-stop marketing site for businesses looking for a new place to locate would be a good strategy for Columbia and Boone County, officials with Regional Economic Development Inc. think.

Most businesses do a lot of online research before they choose a plot of land for a new factory or storefront. That's why REDI is hoping to make it easier for business owners to find a wealth of information about available sites in this area.

The buzz at REDI's meeting Wednesday was the prospect of working with a software company to develop a Web site through which REDI President Michael Brooks could offer information on a range of topics that businesses use when deciding where to locate, including the location of water and sewer lines, zoning restrictions, traffic counts, the square footage of existing buildings and access to highways and railroads. The site as envisioned would be interactive, allowing users to customize the information that appears.

 The REDI board approved a budget Wednesday that includes $25,000 for the geographic information system's Web site. Brooks thought that was a logical amount and said such a site could be up and running within six to nine months. He hopes it happens even sooner.

“I would hope to have something in place in the not-so-distant future,” he said. "We’re trying to find the best way to promote our properties.”

Board members are looking at a possible contract with GIS Planning, which purchases the right to mapping software such as Zoom Prospector, among others, to decide the best avenue for creating the Web site.

“We want to get the best product/price ratio,” Brooks said. “We want to look at various products like GIS Planning, and we would like to make a selection that promotes commerce and business in Boone County and Columbia.”

REDI Chairman Dave Griggs said that when it comes to attracting businesses, Columbia must keep up with the competition.

“Many of the site consultants are already using this type of system,” Griggs said.

He said that there is no Web site in Missouri using this type of software and that it is more common on the East and West coasts. If Columbia is the only city in Missouri delivering this type of service, “you’re going to go to Columbia, which is exactly what we want you to do.”

A piece of evidence used by the board is a University of California-Berkeley study that highlights Internet use as the most common source of information for business owners.

“That’s confirmation of the trends we’re seeing,” Griggs said.

According to the survey, the top five Web site features on an economic development organization’s site are demographic reports, labor force data, land/site information, building inventories, maps, staff directories and contact information.

Zoom Prospector, the technology employed by providers such as GIS Planning, contains all but staff directory and contact information.

Although that information exists on the city and county Web sites, Brooks said, it is not presented in an easily accessible way. Brooks said the goal is to “make the information such that it is easy to obtain. … It really comes to looking at the information from the customer point of view.”

Boone County Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller, a member of the REDI board, attended the meeting and said she feels the technology is important.

“I very much support having whatever tools available that make it easy for anyone searching for a desirable location in our community to be able to do it on the Web,” she said. “That is where the marketing world is going, and we need to be a part of it.”

Brooks and the board are interested in bringing other cities into this program, including Jefferson City, to both share the benefits and the costs.

“We all benefit. … We all pay less,” Brooks said.

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