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Choose Erie portal on track for fall

Posted on August 5th, 2018 at 2:30 PM

Search for Erie on the internet and you’ll quickly find an extensive Wikipedia page, followed by the VisitErie home page, which extols Erie’s virtues as a tourist destination.

Scroll down a bit and you’ll learn Erie has an active business community on the website of the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership.

What you won’t find, said Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, is anything that would catch the eye of a site selector looking to relocate or start a business.

Erie might have a low cost of living and skilled workers, but business owners have no way of easily learning that information, she said. The Choose Erie initiative, announced in April, was designed to address that concern.

The county had hoped to have the website — the still inactive — up and running by this time. But Dahlkemper expects now that the project and website will be complete sometime this fall.

Much of the work has been done to create a website, including photos, information and videos about the Erie area, to help site selectors identify opportunities that might exist for them.

But work still needs to be finished on two key pieces of the project.

One of those is a data center that will enable users to access economic, demographic, industrial and industrial data.

The second involves a study, said Kate Phillips, an Erie-based consultant who has been working with the county on the Choose Erie initiative.

As part of this initiative — patterned after an effort launched by former Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker during his six years as CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce — Erie has to identify its strongest sectors or areas of expertise.

That’s going to require some study and some money to complete that study, Phillips said.

“We don’t want to rush this out,” Dahlkemper said. “When we put this out to the world, we want it to be, ‘Wow, this is great. This is professional.’”

It’s become a mantra in recent months as the issue of economic development is increasingly discussed in public circles.

In the world of business attraction, Erie is not in the game.

Choose Erie is an attempt to change that, emulating the Select Greater Philadelphia program, an elaborate website that offers site selectors a quick roadmap to the offerings of the metro area and its greatest areas of proficiency.

The early reviews for Erie’s version have been good, Phillips said.

“We have gotten calls from the marketing folks at DCED (Department of Community and Economic Development),” she said. “They are so thrilled to have this. We have a place to send people. It’s not just a website. It’s not just a video, it’s a structural shift in how we market Erie County outside Erie County.”

As a portal, Choose Erie will be able to capture certain information about those who are browsing so that automated emails can be sent to them, offering help or further information about the region.

In addition to the technical information that site selectors might want, the portal will also provide extensive tourist and demographic information.

“You can find a lot of this stuff now if you click on 100 websites, but it will take you 10 days,” Phillips said.

Schweiker, who serves today as the chief relationship officer for the technology company Renmatix, said he has been paying close attention to both the Choose Erie initiative and the broader story of investment and reinvention unfolding in Erie.

“As I see it from a distance, and I’ve had many conversations with Kate Phillips and Kathy Dahlkemper, the time has come for this platform. Economic building for a region like Erie is never easy,” he said. “It’s never easy for any region. But to some extent, Erie has a built-in geographic advantage. There is a sense of not just unity but of a workforce that has always been known for a good day’s effort for a day’s pay.”

It will take study and thought to decide what sectors Erie should present as its key areas of focus.

But it’s important to make those judgment calls, Schweiker said. “We probably have 50 industry sectors in Philadelphia,” but the region ultimately decided to tout just a handful.

Narrowing the list lets companies and site selectors understand the focus and get a sense of the clusters of similar companies they might find.

“There was a lot of self-reflection needed,” Schweiker said.

Erie’s project has been funded so far by $88,000 in allocations from Erie County Council, including $47,500 from the Emerge 2040 Steering Committee and $36,000 earmarked for Choose Erie. The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership invested $10,000 while the Erie County Redevelopment Authority contributed $5,000.

By comparison, Phillips said, Philadelphia raised $50 million for its initiative.

The scale might be different, Schweiker said. But in broader terms, he sees Erie’s newfound focus on economic development paying dividends in the form of jobs.

“What I see is momentum,” he said.