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New Web site designed to lure business to region

Sharon Hayes • Mar 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — The Regional Alliance for Economic Development launched a new Web site Wednesday that could lead site selection consultants directly to the region’s virtual front door.

The alliance debuted the new Web site at its annual meeting Wednesday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Web site — located at www.tricitiesprospector.com — provides detailed information about the region, giving site selection consultants the data they need in considering a move here.

“Site selectors are lazy just like the rest of us. And if they can get everything they need right from their desks, that’s the wave of the future. We have to be there,” said Newt Raff, 2009 alliance chairman and president of First Tennessee Bank.

The new Web site is a product of GIS Planning Inc. of San Francisco. Kathleen Atkins, with GIS Planning, said a 2008 study conducted at the University of California at Berkeley found that 750,000 businesses across the country are looking for new sites for expansion each year. That doesn’t include relocations.

The study showed that most of those businesses — 85 percent of them — use the Internet to search for and find expansion sites.

However, searching for potential locations hasn’t been easy — until now.

At an international economic development conference last October, GIS Planning introduced its new national Web site — www.zoomprospector.com — which serves as a national database of regions across the nation. The site allows prospects looking for land or property to identify various search criteria. The site then matches that criteria with communities in its database and links the prospects to those communities.

The site includes information from 180 economic development organizations and their regions in 37 states.

“This is a way to elevate a community that may not have been considered before,” Atkins said. “We’re expecting this to be a game-changing technology.”

From zoomprospector.com, users are linked to local Web sites, including the new tricitiesprospector.com, which provides further details about the region such as demographics, land and building inventory, and existing businesses. Geographic information is also included such as traffic counts and location of colleges and universities, highways, airports and railroads. Site visitors can even get a close-up virtual tour of specific locations, thanks to Google Earth and Google Street View.

And visitors can download files in PDF, Excel and Word formats from the site, creating their own portfolio on various properties.

Brandon Talbert, the alliance’s manager of marketing and client services, said the Web site’s property database is currently incomplete, but the alliance is working with local real estate brokers and property owners to add available land and buildings in the region. He said the alliance expects to have a “substantial” database in the next couple of weeks.

Talbert said brokers can even input information themselves on the Web site for free.

Atkins said the site can be a big asset for small and medium-sized businesses — many of which cannot afford to hire site selection consultants on their own. She said the Web site gives those businesses access to a sophisticated site selection analysis — free of charge.

Tom Ferguson, interim president of the alliance, said the new Web tools will supplement the organization’s existing marketing strategies, including its main Web site at www.alliancetnva.com.

“We believe it’s one of the most exciting things we can bring into our organization this year,” he said.

Tricitiesprospector.com includes details on two counties in Southwest Virginia and eight counties in Northeast Tennessee. Specifically information is included on Scott and Washington counties in Virginia and Sullivan, Washington, Hawkins, Hancock, Greene, Unicoi, Carter and Johnson counties in Tennessee.

For more information contact the alliance at 323-8102 or toll free at 1-866-704-8102 or send e-mail to info@alliancetnva.com.

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