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Marketing an Upstate NY County for Economic Development

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A Case Study of Greene County, NY Economic Development Initiatives over a Decade

Over the 10-year period from 2010 through 2019, Economic Development initiatives funded by the Greene County, NY Legislature have contributed to expanded county-wide commerce and enabled community re-investment through a growing sales tax revenue stream.

Beginning with a county-wide, “Buy Local” campaign, the Greene County Department of Economic Development, Planning & Tourism has consistently promoted the unique character of its 14 Catskill Mountain, Rural Valley and Historic Hudson River towns through consumer engagement and new business attraction.

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The “Buy In Greene” consumer engagement program connects over 1,000 Greene County businesses with prospective customers in and around the county, throughout the NYS Capital and Hudson Valley regions, and with visitors and second home owners from New York City, Long Island, and Northern New Jersey.

The “Invest In Greene” new business attraction program identifies and engages entrepreneurs and existing business owners to facilitate the creation and expansion of job-creating businesses throughout the county, ultimately providing ‘concierge’ support in networking, site selection, obtaining financing, and utilizing available incentives.

Beginning in 2019, The Greene County Legislature created the Greene County Economic Development Corporation (GCEDC). This new entity oversees and directs all consumer engagement and new business attraction efforts, has the authority to acquire properties for development projects and works closely with the Greene County Industrial Development Agency (Greene IDA) to promote shovel-ready sites.

KathodeRay Media has been the Agency of Record for Greene County Economic Development over the entire period covered in this case study. We continue to design, implement and manage all marketing and advertising efforts for these initiatives which have ultimately contributed to a 36% increase of sales tax revenue (2010 vs. 2019) and enabled county operational budget expansion by 24.5% over the same period.

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Background

Greene County, NY covers 658 square miles in a rural area of the Hudson River Valley approximately 130 miles north of New York City.  Its roughly 47,500 residents comprise some 18,000 families and occupy just over 30,350 housing units.  Its population is aging, with 17.4% under the age of 18, 58.9% between 18 and 62, and 23.7% over 62 years old.

The resident population is augmented by a large number of visitors to both attractions and events as well as second homes within the county.  In-county spending by visitors to second homes is the equivalent of adding over 4,400 full-time residents.

A significant part Greene County’s economy is driven by Tourism.  The natural splendor of the great northern Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River has drawn visitors since the 19th century. The decline of manufacturing in the 1970s has shifted jobs to wholesale/retail, distribution, services and the hospitality sector.

The overarching economic goal for county government is to create a business environment that sustainably capitalizes on the natural assets of living, working, and raising a family in Greene County, NY.  The evolution and success of its economic development initiatives are critical to the achievement of this goal, as growing sales tax revenue enables county government to expand the infrastructure and support services needed for communities to thrive.

 

The Role of Marketing in Economic Development: Legislative “Buy Local” Initiative (Think BIG)

In 2008, the Greene County Legislature, comprised of 14 elected representatives from 9 districts, authorized the creation of a program to promote purchases from local businesses over those located outside the county. 

The strategy was (and remains) “Increasing consumer spending within Greene County will generate two significantly beneficial results:

  • Increased Sales for Local Businesses = More In-County Jobs, and;
  • An increasing volume of the 4% Sales Tax Revenue Share = An expanding budget for county services and infrastructure.

KathodeRay Media (KRM) was retained to ‘brand’ this initiative with memorable messaging, and create and deploy a Website and supporting collateral to engage the public. 

Research uncovered that people traveling outside the county to make purchases were unaware that they could actually ‘Find everything you need right in Greene County’.

  • Many were unaware that taking their purchases outside the county actually hurt their communities.
  • Many assumed there was more selection and better prices elsewhere.
  • Many experienced the economic downturn of the time, and were developing negative perceptions about opportunities in Greene County.

KRM’s branding development focused on the two consumer behaviors essential to success.

First, county residents needed to “Believe”:

  • That they could find the products and services they needed within Greene County;
  • That by supporting local businesses, they would benefit from stronger, more vibrant communities.
  • That there were great cultural, community, and natural attractions worthy of their exploration.

Secondly, they needed to take action, and “Buy” into the idea that they could make a difference and improve their lifestyle by making purchases locally.

The key message points of ‘Believe in Greene’ and ‘Buy in Greene’ were incorporated into the ‘Think BiG’ brand and its supporting collateral and website presence at www.ThinkBiG.com.

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The first website deployed for the campaign presented key messaging in an informal and engaging way – like one friend sharing a great find with another. 

ThinkBiG.com enrolled over 300 local businesses with free business listings  - enabling prospective customers to find products, services and activities based on categories and/or location.

It also provided recommendations on places to eat and things to do while shopping in a given location.

 

Rebranding ‘Think BiG’ to ‘Buy In Greene’

By 2010, the economic downturn had become the Great Recession, placing increasing pressure on local businesses to remain solvent.  Additionally, the post-9/11 realities and massive layoffs in the financial services industry in New York City combined to create a ‘relocation migration’ from the NY Metro area to Upstate NY towns and villages with lower costs of living.

Picture5These new ‘Transplants’ to Greene County represented a new prospective market for promoting local businesses, and the ‘Think BiG’ brand was transformed into its more direct component ‘Buy In Greene’.

Social media had begun to take hold, and Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and Google+ accounts were created to engage both current residents and those new to the area.  Social media posts initially announced consumer promotions that published lists of local businesses specifically suited to a given buying season on an updated website at BuyInGreene.com.  Supported by traditional advertising in local media vehicles (print and radio) these consumer promotions gained popularity, ultimately resulting in the year-long seasonal calendar of campaigns that is in place today:

  • Winter Shopping & Activities (January 1 – March 15)Picture6
  • Spring Cleaning, Planting, and Shopping (March 16 – April 25)
  • Moms, Dads & Grads (April 26 – June 25)
  • Summer Fun, Shopping and Activities (June 26 – July 31)
  • Back To School (August 1 – August 31)
  • Fall Harvest (September 1 – October 31)
  • Holiday Shopping (November 1 – December 31)

In 2015, The program’s social media and digital advertising platforms were expanded and refreshed with a new ‘Live, Work, Love, Local.’ theme that celebrated the unique character of Greene County village main streets and community living enjoyed by both long-time ‘born & bred’ residents as well as relatively recent ‘transplants’ to the area.

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The implementation of targeted social media and pay-per-click advertising resulted in significant interest by seasonal visitors to Greene County located in New York City, Long Island, and Northern New Jersey.

Traffic analysis of the website showed that more and more users were accessing pages from searches outside of Greene County, and social media followers from these areas were on a steady rise. These new realities presented an opportunity for expanding the program with the addition of a ‘New Business Attraction’ component to the existing ‘Consumer Engagement’ program.

 

New Business Attraction (Invest In Greene)

In planning for the 2015 campaign, the Greene County Department of Economic Development challenged KRM to create an additional program to target and engage entrepreneurs and prospective new business owners to bring their talents, resources, and passions and start their “dream” business in one of our communities.

Co-branding this initiative with the now established ‘Buy In Greene’ enabled us to leverage the growing reach and following of digital marketing efforts toward this new goal. 

The brands were adhered by a common design and differentiated from each other with descriptor tag-lines:

  • Picture8Buy In Greene - Connecting Local Businesses with the Communities We Share
  • Invest In Greene - Do What You Do in a Place You’ll Love!

Picture9An Inbound Content Marketing strategy was designed, developed and deployed to encourage prospective new business owners to provide their contact information (Name, eMail, City, and State) in return for a FREE download of a helpful guide to “Starting A Small Business”.

Pay-per-click advertising on target key-phrases within a given geographic area drives searchers to a landing page where the provide their contact information in exchange for the offer, and are enrolled in automated workflows that provide additional offers and communications. 

From that moment on, every time a contact accesses information on the program website, we have visibility to the pages visited, time-spent viewing its content, and other interactions (such as providing additional information in smart forms) through their contact profile in the supporting software.

 

Engaging Second-Home Owners (You Don’t Know Greene)

In 2016, the county authorized a study of the Economic Impact of Greene County Second Homes which was conducted by research firm - Camoin Associates, and released in April 2017. 

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The results of that study not only detailed the significance of second home ownership, but provided an initial mailing list of owners, and enabled KRM to create and deploy the ‘You Don’t Know Greene’ campaign.

  • An oversized postcard was delivered to the mailing list of validated addresses.
  • Curious recipients entered the URL com into their browsers
  • The resulting landing page enabled these second home owners to better interact with county government and receive regular updates.

Initial deployment of the Direct Mail effort resulted in a 10% response rate. (Average Industry Expectation is 2% response)

To date, approximately 15% of opt-in subscribers to county eNewsletters are identifiable second-home owners.

Continuing marketing efforts are deployed to this list to encourage second-home owners to make Greene County their primary residence and/or start or relocate a new or existing business.

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Promoting Emerging Markets

The unique character of Greene County communities, its rural setting, small town lifestyle and proximity to accessible markets presents specific growth opportunities in:

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  • Craft Beverage Production
  • The Creative Economy
  • Specialty Manufacturing

Beginning in 2016, KRM has continuously augmented its Inbound Content Marketing strategy to provide helpful guides, overviews, and personal access to resources and programs for expanding these sectors in Greene County.Picture13

Promoted through pay-per-click advertising campaigns, downloads of these FREE resources have resulted in creating contact profiles on over 2,000 individuals searching for information on these topics.

Every contact is enrolled in an automated workflow and receives monthly communication on living working and starting a dream business in Greene County.  Interaction rate on these communications are tracked through the individual contact profiles on the supporting software.

 

Celebrating Local Business Successes

Picture15A crucial component of the KRM Inbound Content Marketing strategy is the creation of engaging stories relevant to topics of interest to the target audience.  To attract new businesses to establish and/or expand operations in Greene County KRM creates and publishes monthly Success Stories spotlighting local businesses. 

Each story is optimized for internet searches on the topic, and promoted on social media platforms, significantly contributing to a following that has nearly tripled since the beginning of the campaign.

A robust social post calendar is created monthly with linked posts driving traffic to specific content on the website, moving social media followers to website users.

Engaging content, whether in stories, social media posts, eBooks, eNewsletters, or web pages has proven to be a key differentiator in the ongoing success of this program.

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Website Development Strategy

At the inception of this program, website technology was far less advanced and accessible than today, and a basic informational site served the ‘Think BiG’ initiative until its re-brand to ‘Buy In Greene’ in late 2014.

Picture21By that time, 70% of internet searches were from desktop (or laptop) computers, with only 30% of searches on mobile devices, but it was apparent that mobile technology was quickly gaining popularity.  In anticipation of this trend, KRM designed and deployed a new site (with the new brand) that was ‘responsive’ to the device it was viewed upon, resizing images and text based on screen size.

 By 2016, it was clear that that ratio was about to flip as more and more searches came from smartphones.   The website upgrade launched that year was also responsive, but it also included upgrades to the business listings format and improved site-search capability.

Picture22The 2016 upgrade design incorporated high-quality images of Greene County businesses and communities, a more intuitive user experience, and the integration of contact tracking software - associating website activity with its specific contact profile (once a contact has responded to a marketing message, signed up for opt-in eNewsletters, or downloaded an offer).

By late 2018, nearly 80% of internet searches were coming from mobile devices.  Most people were searching for information from their phones first, then, digging into detailed information from a larger desktop or laptop screen.  Advances in technology combined with the launching of the Greene County Economic Development Corporation, facilitated the need for a new web presence that leveraged the rank and authority in internet searches that led to the existing website.  

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Launching the Greene County Economic Development Corporation

In 2019, the Greene County Legislature created the Greene County Economic Development Corporation (GCEDC) as the overarching authority for all economic development activities promoting Greene County, NY as a vital location to live, work, and create.

KRM was charged with creating a new brand for this new entity, which would complement the existing program brands of ‘Buy In Greene’ and ‘Invest In Greene’.  This effort including creating a new over-arching design and creating new content relevant to attracting larger employers and destination businesses in conjunction with an Industrial Development Agency (responsible for creating shovel-ready sites and negotiating incentives such as Payment In Lieu Of Taxes or PILOT programs).

The look and feel of a new website at GreeneCountyEDC.com would compliment an improved user experience for the consumer engagement site at BuyInGreene.com and the small business attraction site at InvestInGreene.com.

Primary messaging and imagery on the GreeneCountyEDC.com home page was designed to attract and engage site selectors, developers, and owners of existing businesses seeking to relocate of expand.

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An easily updatable repository of Key Economic Indicators was developed to provide users with 18 major statistics and demographics on: Population, Employment, Workforce Income, and Real Estate. Back-end functionality enables updates of these indicators in a single table, when new annual data become available, displaying the values in current year to previous year comparisons.

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Picture28Popup offer boxes appear on relevant page content as the user scrolls through the information they are browsing – encouraging them to download an offer and place their contact information into the contact management database for future outreach efforts

An emphasis was put on Greene County communities as Affordable, Beautiful and easily Commutable to jobs in the Capital District and Hudson Valley regions.

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One of the primary goals of the new Greene County Economic Development Corporation (GCEDC) is to work seamlessly with the Greene County Industrial Development Agency (GreeneIDA) to identify new development opportunities and provide shovel-ready sites and incentives.  The two entities co-exist in a cooperative environment, but a future merger is an option.

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Achievements

KathodeRay Media (KRM) developed and fostered the relationship with Greene County Economic Development stakeholders for over a decade – effectively becoming their marketing & advertising department as an extension of their in-office staff and leadership.

This long-term, collaborative relationship has generated and contributed to major successes in the continuing achievement of annual goals and targets, as well as the positive perception of Greene County, NY in the marketplace.

 

Cumulative Achievements Include:

  • Over 1,000 local businesses promoted through free listings on BuyInGreene.com;
  • Over 12,000 engaged social media followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn;
  • Over 2,000 downloads of publications, guides, and templates for establishing a small business in Greene County, NY;
  • Over 2,000 engaged prospective new business contacts receiving monthly updates, offers, and news alerts;
  • Over 1500 pages of website content, business listings, and blog posts, each optimizer to attract internet searches on the topic and the geographic area;
  • Over 120,000 annual visitors to BuyInGreene.com, InvestInGreene.com and GreeneCountyEDC.com (over 30% from organic internet searches)
  • Over 40 new small businesses established in the county since 2016 through the Invest In Greene program.
  • Expansion of a growing Creative Economy with 2 new performance venues, a green-screen film production studio, and the revitalization of a waterfront warehouse into a creative economy hub, and;
  • Expansion of Greene County Sales Tax Revenue by 36% (2010 vs. 2019) enabling county budget increases totaling 24.6% over the same period - generating an operating surplus.

 

Moving Forward

The partnership between KathodeRay Media and Greene County Economic Development is both mutually beneficial and creatively fulfilling.  New challenges and opportunities present themselves every year, and proven program successes continue to ensure funding support from the Legislature.

Our multi-faceted and comprehensive marketing campaign combines effective technology with engaging creative design & messaging to attract both the consumers and producers required for sustainable growth.

With an aging population and an in-county unemployment rate of 4.3%, one certain future challenge is Workforce Development to ensure that younger residents have the skills required to fill the jobs created by employers attracted through our programs.

Addressing the brain-drain of top-achieving high school graduates choosing to relocate after college is another longer-term issue.  Keeping these young people connected to their roots and working to provide career opportunities in Greene County is a primary concern.

We look forward to addressing the challenges, implementing the solutions, and celebrating the successes in Greene County as we leverage our prior accomplishments toward the achievement of future goals.

 


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