any of the participating cities. Users find it easy to use and terribly convenient to search from one Web site, instead of jumping from one individual city Web site to the next."

If You Can't Beat Them ...

Though NWProperty.net can clearly help the Puget Sound region compete with other regions, some worry that participating cities will ultimately compete against one another to attract businesses.

"We stress that we're not competing with ourselves; we're competing with other geographical centers, other states," said Backman. "When a business looks at NWProperty.net, they are getting a view of us as a region -- not as individual cities. In addition, every city has its own niche -- where suppliers are located, educational attainment in the area, etc. This gives businesses a better chance at finding exactly what they want and need while simultaneously improving the overall strength of the state -- something that is ultimately important to all our cities."

Craig Ward, assistant city manager of SeaTac, Wash., said NWProperty.net gave his city a more affordable option for economic development efforts.

"Before NWProperty.net came along, we were actively considering the services of a private vendor," he said. "In checking references of private vendors, we became aware of NWProperty.net. We contacted them and found out it would be a significant cost savings compared to the private vendor and would provide us with more flexibility. We decided the cost savings were worth the risks of engaging in this new venture."

A Unique Alliance

The eCityGov Alliance was formed in 2002 out of two different collaborative projects.

Building officials from Bellevue, Kirkland, Issaquah and Mercer Island collaborated for several years to align business objectives, code administration practices and philosophy to provide more consistent, uniform service delivery to customers.

At the same time, a group of city officials in the King County area were considering a collaborative project to provide online services to reduce operating costs.

Both efforts came together, evolving into the eCityGov Alliance.

Before NWProperty.net, the alliance successfully implemented a regional e-permitting application called MyBuildingPermit.com and is now working on an equivalent service for regionwide recreation class registrations to be called MyParksandRecration.com.

The alliance continues looking for opportunities to reduce costs and improve service delivery. In some cases, an individual agency brings an application to the alliance and offers to share it; in others, the alliance develops its own application or purchases an existing application. The alliance also works on interagency coordination for data sharing and structure (GIS data and addresses) to improve data sets and lower members' operating costs.

Though it's too early to tie any direct economic improvements to NWProperty.net, Ward said the site already has produced some additional advantages for SeaTac. City employees are often asked to track down lists of available properties for developers and conduct research to help developers assess the city's suitability to their clients. "This gives us a mechanism to respond to those requests quickly, saves our staff time and provides us a capacity we didn't have before," he said.

Because the GIS application allows prospective companies and brokers to search for data such as steep slopes, wetlands and environment protections affecting a potential property, a good amount of due diligence can be done electronically, saving time for those in search of property.

"The more information we provide and the easier we make it to access and use, the better our chances of improving our attractiveness to new and relocating businesses," said Ward. "We may not be the cheapest state in which to do business, but we offer many other benefits and a quality of life you can't find in other places."

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer