StarTribune.com

Editorial: New website is key to region's sales effort

May 7, 2008

With corporations and entrepreneurs increasingly dependent on the web for marketplace data, metro areas that want to be competitive in recruiting new business from other locales are taking their sales pitches to the Internet.

Today the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce will unveil MetroMSP.org, a new website -- two years in the making -- that gives companies from outside the 11-county region a one-stop site for marketplace data, demographics and commercial/industrial real-estate listings. Until now, a company interested in moving a plant or offices to the Twin Cities might have had to surf dozens of sites -- or spend thousands of dollars on a consultant -- to get the information available at MetroMSP.

The website is an important new economic development tool for the Twin Cities region, although it's not exactly cutting-edge, admitted Todd Klingel, president and CEO of the Minneapolis chamber. "We're anything but early to this -- we're late.''

Nevertheless, credit goes to the chamber for working through the logistics and political maneuvering necessary to convince a consortium of public and private partners that collaborating on a website that touts the entire region is just as important as pursuing individual community interests. If a company in Ohio decides to move significant operations to St. Paul because of research made possible by MetroMSP, the entire metro benefits.

The software for the site was developed by San Francisco-based GIS Planning Inc., which has a long list of clients for its economic-development websites, including Milwaukee, Denver and Chicago.

Another client, Oklahoma City, says it landed a Dell customer-service center (and 3,000 new jobs) in part because its website quickly provided the company with critical information as it compared the city with more than 120 locations in North and South America. That's the kind of result the chamber and its partners hope to achieve with MetroMSP.

The website is a two-year pilot project, funded with $500,000 raised from private and public partners, including the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. It's likely to be a wise investment.

The 11-county region has a lot to offer to businesses that might be expanding or considering moving operations from other countries or U.S. cities. And with more business taking place online, MetroMSP gives the region the kind of web presence it needs to keep pace with its competitors in the economic-development race.