December 2, 2004 By Justine Brown
Washington's struggle to retain existing businesses and attract new ones recently caused the state to increase economic competitiveness efforts. NWProperty.net, a multicity economic development portal for the Puget Sound region, is one of the latest attempts to enhance the state's appeal to businesses.
The eCityGov Alliance, a multijurisdictional effort to improve access to government services in Washington, runs the NWProperty.net portal. The site launched in June 2004 to provide local jurisdictions, real estate and user focus groups with an easy-to-use regional Internet tool.
Its main feature is a comprehensive listing of commercial property for sale and lease provided by the Commercial Brokers Association. That information is combined with demographic, assessment and business data, and GIS-structured public data organized by participating jurisdictions.
Regional officials hope national site selection firms and corporate real estate departments will use NWProperty.net to recommend locations to business clients, and that local businesses will use it to find expansion space in their communities, locate competitors or find businesses with which to ally themselves.
It is also hoped site users will call up household income data, local and regional work force characteristics, and other information pertinent to locating property, and preparing business and marketing plans.
NWProperty.net got its start in Bellevue, Wash.
"With the economic downturn and the dot-com bust, Bellevue was faced with high property vacancy rates, which translated to lower tax revenues," said John Backman, executive director of eCityGov Alliance. "At the same time, the marketplace was seeing economic tools emerge based on GIS and commercial property data. The city thought combining these things might be a good opportunity to improve their economic competitiveness."
City officials realized the idea wouldn't take off unless they got their hands on up-to-date commercial property data, but Bellevue lacked staff and resources to gather the information. After talking to the Kirkland, Wash.-based Commercial Brokers Association, city officials secured the association's commitment to provide commercial property data.
"We don't want to enter sale and lease information into yet another Web site," said Toni Cramer, co-chair of the eCityGov Alliance and CIO for the city of Bellevue. "We partnered with the Commercial Brokers Association to use existing data already created and maintained by realtors, developers and brokers."
The next step was talking to potential site users, which resulted in the formation of brokers' focus groups. After working with those groups, Bellevue officials realized brokers didn't have time to jump from one jurisdiction Web site to another looking for properties. The city would better serve users by making the site work on a regional basis.
City officials took their idea to the eCityGov Alliance, which liked it enough to purchase NWProperty.net from Bellevue and began working to expand it to a regional system.
The alliance purchased the NWProperty.net application, including the underlying code, and bought the server hardware and server software licenses required to operate NWProperty.net. The alliance project team selected and purchased the NWProperty.net URL after the alliance agreed to purchase the application.
Thirteen Washington cities use NWProperty.net for economic development: Auburn, Bellevue, Bothell, Issaquah, Kenmore, Kent, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Redmond, Sammamish, SeaTac, Snoqualmie and Woodinville.
"The city views NWProperty.net as an important economic development tool," said Cramer. "It allows anyone, anywhere, at any time to look for commercial properties for sale or lease in
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