I have a buddy back in Blighty who is married to the daughter of the former chief clerk of our local council. Now the chief clerk of the council holds all the purse strings when it comes to whys and what for’s of local public spending. For example, they get to decide who gets to do the work once a project is decided upon. Whether these are ongoing concerns such as parks, pavements and other related civic expenditure or one-offs they tend to give the nod.
You may recall a certain Mrs. Thatcher during the eighties – I know I do. Well under her leadership, we in Britain were given the opportunity to become more acquainted with the concept of public/private partnership. In a nutshell, everything that could be deregulated and decentralized was and opened up to competitive tender.
Before my buddy’s wife married my buddy, she spent a bit of time courting the owner of a local landscaping firm. This wasn’t too long after Mrs. Thatcher’s deregulated stamp had been firmly imprinted across the land. At the time of their courtship his firm wasn’t much of a mover and shaker, but by the time it was over his company was responsible for doing quite a large proportion of the council’s landscaping and park maintenance.
I once had the privilege of talking to the guy regarding this and he managed to explain how public/private partnership worked on a local level. He obviously got on quite well with the chief clerk and was asked to put in tenders for various jobs that were coming up. Now the council itself had a landscaping department that it had employed to do park maintenance for years. Thankfully, the Conservative government had managed to put into place a culture where every single project had to be bid on by both their own internal departments and outside contractors.
He reliably informed me that more often than not, the council departments were the cheaper option, but more often than not the outside contractor received the tender.
This was happening to such an extent with his firm that he was actually becoming quite embarassed by it all. He’d also heard of plenty of other contractors dealing with other councils keeping many a stationery retailer busy with their need for decent sized brown envelopes.
I suppose an approximate American equivalent to our local council chief clerks would be the city planner albeit on a much smaller scale. Whilst I’m not casting any aspersions in any particular direction, I think we all sometimes wonder how these people make the decisions they do.
There’s a great little piece in The Intelligencer by a certain Tom Wolfe asking a few questions along similar lines about the spending surplus currently being touted for allocation here in Wheeling.
“OK, so let me get this straight: We have a surplus of nearly $1 million, and of that, city planners want $171,972 to go to “stuff”: $400,000 to go to street paving, $140,000 to go to a pay raise, and the rest to be distributed among city administration and “pet projects.” Of all that, only $50,000 was earmarked for the Ohio Valley Development Corp., and $5,000 toward Web site improvements — investments that could possibly promote city growth.
Now, I’m sure everyone has their own ideas about how this surplus should be spent, but I am disappointed in the plan City Manager Robert Herron came up with. Does he live in a different Wheeling than I do? It may be true that the city needs a new snow plow and front-end loader, and we certainly could use street paving, but the Wheeling I know has an immediate, greater need — for investors, employers and development.”
I’m not about to quote the piece ad verbatim – although it would be worth it – instead, I’ll focus on Tom’s ideas regarding the spending of monies improving Wheeling’s presence on the Web.
“Instead of a meager $5,000 toward what I expect would be “limited” improvements to the City of Wheeling Web site, spend more — and bring many of the city departments online, in a fashion similar to other progressive cities and “business4wv.com.” Additional investment to cross-promote existing internet resources such as the Heritage Trail Web site, Regional Development Web site, and the Convention & Visitors’ Bureau Web site probably wouldn’t hurt, either.”
You may disagree that extra money being spent on a few Websites is worth it. You may think the pavements are more of a pressing problem and that money should be allotted exclusively to ‘real’ Wheeling. But, does it not make sense to promote Wheeling as an ongoing concern to those outside of the area? Does it not make sense to promote what the city has to offer in order to attract more business and thus drive prosperity and an even bigger surplus? Of course – these are rhetorical questions. You just need to know your spend is going to be worthwhile.
Believe it or not, building a presence online is one of the most cost effective ways to promote anything if done correctly. It isn’t just a case of throwing a bit of chump change at a designer to change it up and pop a new logo in the header. You can coordinate a campaign to include the people of Wheeling in how to move itself forward with the aid of press releases, social networking and blogs.
You can also promote Wheeling in areas that you would never normally reach if you mange to use effective search marketing techniques such as search engine optimization and paid search advertsing while engaging users with the city’s natural charm inherent within the people, area and culture with the aid of a social network type of site. There really is no end to what can be done online to promote Wheeling among its city folk and throughout the rest of the world.
The key is to get people with a passion for the place involved, whoever they may be, and provide them with the space to express that passion online.