Economic development is as close as your smartphone

Mon, 2014-05-12 06:00 -- Jesse Berst

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can cities connect residents with economic opportunity? How can they give local businesses a boost? One solution may be as close as the nearest web browser or smartphone. More and more cities are building applications for citizens to help them:

    • Find jobs with online job boards, feeds, employment maps, search tools
    • Create jobs with economic statistics, one-stop web portals, free job postings

The City of Houston, Texas, for example, has a website and free smartphone app dedicated to connecting job seekers with local employers. On the web, job seekers can search for positions by role, industry or location. Employers can post job openings for free and have them distributed immediately via social media, job sites, email and mobile. The companion Houston Jobs smartphone app (available in English and Spanish) syncs with the website; job seekers can see jobs through their phone's browser or displayed on a map. The Tweet My Job Houston! initiative is administered by the city's Office of Business Opportunity.

Another approach is the one-stop business services portal built by Alphinat for the City of Quebec. It not only provides resources for job seekers, it also does a remarkable job of helping local employers find talent. For example, the portal features a comprehensive recruitment guide that offers statistics on the local job market, advice on where to focus recruiting efforts, etc.

And there are an increasing number of ways to learn about jobs within cities or other government agencies. Job seekers in Florida's Tampa Bay region can use the free Tampa Bay Employment smartphone app to get feeds and/or links to current government employment opportunities in six cities and three counties in the area. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, people seeking employment with the city can go to the city's human resources website and see the types of positions available to them based on their level of education. Accompanying infographics illustrate career progression options and corresponding salary ranges.

Healthy business communities make healthy cities

Cities are also building apps intended to boost the local economy:

    • Promoting tourism and local businesses by getting word out about local events, discounts offered by local merchants, walking tours, maps, business directories
    • Promoting economic development with statistics, maps, community profiles, property inventories

Cornwall, England uses its free App for Cornwall smartphone app to promote tourism by featuring information on attractions, activities, places to eat, pubs, clubs, shopping, accommodations and the like. The SAVE app (for San Antonio Vacation Experience) gives users access to discounts for some of the Texas city's most popular attractions, including museums, theme parks, shops and sightseeing tours as well as exclusive hotel offers.

Along the same lines but getting even more futuristic is the SmartSantanderRA app based on augmented reality technology. The smartphone app highlights information about 2,700 places in the city of Santander, Spain -- from beaches to shops to parking places. It creates an overlay on the smartphone screen showing nearby points of interest. When a user selects a point of interest, the app displays a short description, photo and distance to it.  It also allows real-time access to traffic and beach cameras, weather reports, public bus schedules, bike-rental services and more. 

Attracting new business is another focus. In the Greater New Orleans area, for example, the GNOi app puts regional economic development in the hands of the people by arming them with instant access to facts, statistics and accolades about the area so business owners, community leaders and others can be informed spokespeople for business development. (And so they can make informed decisions about whether and where to launch a new business.) The YES VA app provides businesses interested in locating in Virginia property information, photos, location data and community profiles for each of the communities, regions and MSAs in the state. Users can explore Virginia’s existing inventory of available properties in a simple to use map and navigate properties by type and narrow the options based on their specific requirements.

For many more examples, visit the Smart Cities Council's Apps Gallery. (Note the Apps Gallery requires a free one-time registration.)

DIY apps aren't a city's only option

And by the way, cities don't have to develop all these apps on their own. Many companies now specialize in public sector websites and phone apps. And many cities have successfully held hackathons where local developers have built slick, valuable apps (for the price of a weekend's worth of pizza and Mountain Dew).

One final note as you think about how best to deliver economic development apps. Smartphones don't close the digital divide... but they do narrow it. Many families that don't have Internet access at home do have at least one smartphone. Our advice at the Smart Cities Council: When building apps, be sure to include a smartphone version.

Economic development, in many ways, is about getting the right information to the right people at the right time at the right place. For more and more citizens, the right place is a web browser or smartphone.

See what others are saying about how cities can better connect all of their residents to economic opportunity at the group blogging event at https://meetingoftheminds.org/cal/group-blogging-event 

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to learn about the benefits you receive when you join the Council for free. Follow @Jesse_Berst and connect on LinkedIn.