Crafting the Corridor Experience

By: Eric Engelmann, President and CEO, Geonetric

Named one of the fastest growing companies in the country by Inc. 5,000.

Recognized as Iowa Software Company of the Year.

Doubled in size to 52 people in the last year. Our company has had an amazing year. This extraordinary growth has provided us with many opportunities, but we’ve also run into numerous challenges – especially recruitment. The Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor has proven to be a great marketplace for Geonetric to find bright, creative team members. But, with the amount of growth we have planned, venturing out of the region, and even out of the state, has become necessary. As we’ve embarked on this task, the perception of the Corridor by outsiders has surprised me. This is an incredible place to work and live, but we’re not effectively making this impression.

Recruiting the Best

One impressive candidate we recently interviewed hailed from Minneapolis. Before he came, he told me how he researched the area online using search engines like Google to learn more about the Corridor. I asked him what he discovered. He replied, “Well, I saw that you have a Chili’s® restaurant. And it seems kind of like Fargo.”

That wasn’t exactly what I was hoping to hear.

I dive into the tour, championing easier commutes and safer schools. We discussed the numerous cultural activities and the excitement of Big Ten sports. But he already had his first impression, and it was made online.

His questions centered on possible homes in the Iowa countryside, preferably a farmstead. He wanted to learn about activities for his six- and eight-year-old children, and find information on bike trails. He was curious if the area was dog friendly. All of this information is online somewhere, but not in one place. We haven’t made it easily accessible.

Instead of seeing the fun, diverse, beautiful and safe Corridor that we see, he saw another nondescript city built in the middle of a cornfield with nothing more to offer than national food chains. That was his first impression of the Corridor, and it’s not accurate.

If you were to try the same exercise, looking at our region online, you’ll find that there are half a dozen Chamber of Commerce sites and numerous Convention and Visitor’s bureau sites. Each community has at least one Web site of its own, and most of those have economic development groups that have additional sites of their own. Then there are theme-based sites, such a Cultural Corridor, Corridor Careers, etc. All told, there are hundreds of sites about the area.

Yet, in all of these sites, not one is specifically dedicated to showcasing the Corridor in its entirety. Not one site provided the information that mattered to him.

We need to find a central voice for the Corridor. We have numerous organizations telling different stories to fragmented audiences. It is imperative that we find ownership for the Corridor story, and craft the message that is currently missing.

Promoting the Corridor

The Corridor has numerous farmsteads. We have a Children’s Museum and beautiful recreational areas; we even have dog parks for the family pet. These stories would have made a difference to my recruit, and they will make a difference to hundreds of others out there who are looking to escape big-city life, thinking about moving back home, or just looking for a change.

My sister moved to Raleigh, N.C. without a job because it ‘looked cool.’ She found sites about Raleigh online that intrigued her. Raleigh has effectively managed the impression they want others to derive when they research their city. We need to do the same; we have to improve our first impression.

To build a thriving, high-technology market segment we need to attract creative, innovative, intelligent people to the area. All of these people use the Internet as a key part of their search. If we know there are people out there researching the Corridor, we need to have targeted messages available. We need to tell them a compelling story, one of high-ranking schools and safe neighborhoods, of easy commutes and world-class dining.

Building the Buzz

One way to start telling this story is to create a community blog and having local writers share their thoughts about the Corridor. They can blog about what matters to people considering relocation, such as general discussions about the quality of life and housing. They can blog about the social scene and the job scene, and do so by audience segments so the single 20-somethings and family-focused 40-somethings both can be enticed.

This is just the first step. This is an amazing place to live and work. Let’s tell the world about it!

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Filed under Editorial commentary, Why it's great to live here

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