Sree's Stories

TAKING IN THE SITES / SREENATH SREENIVASAN

Checking Out Cities and States on the Internet

Monday, March 10, 1997
Pg. D7
Cities and states are using the Internet to escalate their competition for new businesses and investment.

More and more economic development agencies are now boasting online about their incentive packages to attract companies to relocate to their areas. The World Wide Web's interactive nature allows companies and individuals looking for facts about different regions to get information that only used to be available, if at all, through the mail and in-person visits.

"For an economic development agency to not have a Web site nowadays is the equivalent of not having a fax machine," said Leonard Fuld, a co-author of "Regional Web Wars," a study of economic development Web sites.

His consulting firm, Fuld & Co., of Cambridge, Mass., awards Web Warrior awards to economic development agencies with sites that provide information efficiently and effectively. Current winners include the sites of South Carolina, Delaware, Ohio and Arizona. Each of these sites offers facts about its state's economic development strategy in a clear and easy-to-understand manner.

States are not alone in their hunt for new business. Cities of various sizes have gone online, announcing their wares. New York City, for example, has an in-depth business resource guide on its site, complete with details on tax abatements, international assistance programs, and a sales tax suspension effort.

The Interactive Economic Development Network is a logical place to hunt for useful information. Its comprehensive site is filled with resources about economic development links, wired communities, financing sources and technology transfers.

Some foreign economic regions are also keen players in the game of attracting business and investment. Fuld gave the top award in its overseas category to the Cote d'Azur. This French region of the Riviera has focused considerable energy on business development and its site reflects that, making good use of maps and lists. But most overseas economic development sites are less sophisticated than the top American sites.

Not surprisingly, even a building in Silicon Alley in New York City has gotten into the act of attracting tenants through the Internet. The New York Information Technology Center at 55 Broad Street advertises itself as a "wired" building that pushes the technology envelope. Its site has a virtual reality tour of the building and a list of financial incentives offered to tenants.

Some of the leading publications in the corporate relocation business have made their way onto the Web and offer executives another source of information. Area Development, a magazine that deals with planning company relocations, has a site with reprints of its articles as well as state-by-state economic profiles and a listing of state tax incentives. Site Net, a venture of Site Selections magazine, has a comprehensive site that allows corporate relocation planners to learn more about regions. The site also features a useful "tool kit" that provides a checklist for picking an optimum site, along with in-depth lease information.

Companies interested in learning more about the demographics of American counties and cities may find the University of Virginia Social Sciences Data Center's site useful. It offers extensive marketplace information that can be searched by more than 200 variables, including age groups, household incomes, and even the votes cast for Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential election.

Acknowledging that businesses base their relocation decisions on standard of living factors as well as fiscal concerns, some of the sites highlight favorable human factors. The site of the Roanoke Valley of Virginia, for instance, has a page dedicated to its "low crime." There are selective lists of crime statistics that, naturally, favorably compare Roanoke to 20 other cities in Virginia and across the country. It does not ignore financial concerns: a similar selective list of comparative electricity rates is available.

Since moving a business or a factory to a new location involves changes for employees, two sites provide features that can show employees and management what it is like to live in different cities.

Money magazine's site offers plenty of information about its annual list of "best cities" to live in the United States. Most useful perhaps is its interactive "Find your best places" feature, that allows users to provide preferences about different factors and get back a list of suggestions for places that match their criteria.

The Homebuyer's Fair international salary calculator provides an interactive peek at the salary levels needed to provide a given living standard in different cities. Want to move from, say, a $50,000 salary in New York City to Geneva, Switzerland? The site will tell you that you need to earn $68,875 just to keep pace. On the other hand, you'll need only $17,851 to live comparably in Kiev, Ukraine.

Commercial Real Estate Network, a GE Capital Services company, has a free search function for anyone looking to rent or buy office space and links to various commercial real estate sites.

Unfortunately, many states and cities have not made good use of the interactive nature of the Web and have basically published their brochures on the Internet. As more and more businesses use this medium for their initial scouting, sites that are not current or well designed will lose traffic and business.

WHERE TO GO

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company