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Economic development: an app for that

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013



05.22.13 Blog iPad02Sean Robbins, CEO of Greater Portland Inc., dropped by the OB offices yesterday to demonstrate a new economic development app aimed at marketing the Portland region through storytelling. The Greater PDX For Business app, which launches today, was developed by digital marketing agency Storycode.

Economic development agencies continue to take a "very antiquated and static approach to marketing," said Robbins. “Statistics and rankings don’t sell communities. Stories sell.” 

Robbins, it should be noted, has a penchant for telling stories. During a Greater Portland Inc. luncheon last year, he delivered an out-of-the-box keynote narrating the very personal life stories of his grandparents and parents and how they progressively improved their economic standing.

Back at OB, with the aid of his iPad mini, Robbins touch-screened his way through the app, which is organized around 6 “chapters" propelling the Portland narrative: economy, innovation, cost, education, community and exports/manufacturing.  A model of “data visualization,” the app features creative representations of all kinds of data comparing Portland to other cities, such as an interactive footprint depicting five-year growth in the number of people who walk to work: Portland, 12.2%, San Jose -3.7%.

The app also features six Oregon CEOs talking about why they chose to locate or grow their companies in Oregon, including Icebreaker USA CEO Lisa Thompson, Raghu Raghavan from Act-On Software, and Urban Airship’s Scott Kveton. 

The result is a comprehensive 21st century marketing tool that combines the look and feel of a tourism ad campaign with the data sets and rankings companies and CEOs are looking for.

Greater Portland Inc. has had its eye on such an app for some time, but the expense was prohibitive, says Greater Portland Inc. marketing director Maggie Davis.  Then Storycode, which was recently acquired by TigerLogic, stepped up with a philanthropic offer; the company would build the app for free, although costs will accrue going forward.

Storycode, of course, is a member of Portland's burgeoning software/mobile development business cluster, a cluster featured on the new mobile app.

Linking individual businesses, economic clusters and cities is one of the goals driving the app project. Robbins says he wants to cut through all the "noise" and divisions surrounding local economic development — noise that includes unproductive competition between different cities and the perennial debate about whether quality of life or traditional metrics such as employment and taxes are more important in growing the local economy.

Economic development apps aren't new, but most focus on a single aspect such as land or permitting, says Robbins.

Greater PDX For Business is the first to focus on selling an entire community, he says. "We're narrating a better story."

Linda Baker keeps tabs on CEOs and public policy issues.


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