The Guilford County Economic Development Alliance (GCEDA) is creating a web portal and supporting database of available commercial sites and buildings meant to make it easier for prospective developers interested in locating their businesses in Guilford County.

According to economic development officials at the meeting, the web portal will allow prospective customers to locate buildings and land that meet their development needs and, internally, it will help area economic development staff keep abreast of what’s available to market to prospects.

GCEDA approved funds for the project at a Thursday, August 25 meeting. The alliance, which is made up of Guilford County, Greensboro and High Point, has been working to bring more economic development into the area.

Brent Christensen, the president and CEO of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce – which just changed its name from “Greensboro Partnership” – said at the meeting that this is a badly needed tool for this county and that he and staff have been researching the portal for months.

“We see a need for GCEDA to create a site- and building-database and web presence,” Christensen said at the meeting held at the Cameron Campus of Guilford Technical Community College in Colfax. “When people come and look on your website, many times they’re looking for sites or buildings, and, if you don’t make it easily accessible to them, they’ll pass you up. Also, this is great for us to have a better sense of what our product is. We need to make sure that we are showing our product and giving a good sense of what our product is on a website, which is often the front door for economic development.”

David Ramsey, vice president of economic development for the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, said there’s no “one-stop database” of this type for business properties in Guilford County.

“Wake County has one; Alamance County has one, and we just don’t have one,” he said, “So that’s were we lose them.”

Christensen also said that first impressions during an initial search for potential sites in an area were extremely important and that it would be a big plus for someone to be able to easily see what commercial sites and office space are available in Guilford County. He added that this tool will also help avoid embarrassing mess-ups on the part of area economic development officials.

“They don’t find, ‘Oh that property is out of the market,’” he said. “One of our biggest concerns is that we pitch a property to a prospect that’s not on the market and they love it and it’s not on the market anymore.”

At the August 25 meeting, the GCEDA board voted unanimously to allocate $20,000 for the initial phase of the project, though more may be needed later.

In the past, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan has argued that this type of system is a real need. As Greensboro mayor, she sits on the GCEDA board, and she told the group it will help the local governments work with area developers and property owners.

At the August 25 meeting, she said she certainly saw the benefits of this step in the effort to increase economic development in her city and in Guilford County.

“One of the issues that we had 18 or 24 months ago when we started with this discussion is how the City of Greensboro and the Partnership could work better together,” Vaughan said.

“One of the criticisms of the Partnership from some of the developers was, ‘Well, they don’t even know where my property is,’” she said, referring to a time before Christensen arrived. “There’s not an accurate inventory, so that kind of fed into the favoritism conversation. We would hear, ‘They know where A’s property is, but they don’t know where my property is. So this would really help reconcile that.”

Christensen replied, “I think that criticism has been muted a bit because we’ve made it our business to go out there and know the market. We know it well. We have to make sure we’re presenting it to the world.”

According to Christensen, the new web portal needs to operate “hand in glove” with the commercial real estate industry in this area.

“The last thing we want to do is make it harder on them and add another step to what they’re doing,” he said.

Cyndi Dancy, a research analyst for the alliance who’s working on the portal project, said the plans are for the site to be user-friendly and easy to find, and the tools would be available on phones, other mobile devices and desktop platforms. She also said the portal would offer an attractive picture of the property in question, and will give “top info” that will no doubt include things like square-footage and zoning information. She also said the portal would be on both the Greensboro and High Point sites and on both sites it will look the same.

“It can be looked at in a list format or on a map,” Dancy said. “If someone says, ‘I want to be in the airport submarket or in northern High Point,’ they’re going to be able to go to a map.”

“They’ll have the high level information, and then it’s going to drive them to a more detailed sheet,” she said. “The goal is to have a very visible, friendly presentation of our products to really get everyone involved.”

Right now, the state has a database system, but according to GCEDA officials, that site is aging, lacks an intuitive interface and isn’t always up to date.

“They are looking toward moving to a new database but we’re not sure what their timetable is and we’re not sure about the funding,” Dancy said.

So instead of waiting, she said, it made sense for Guilford County to move forward with a portal of its own.

Christensen said the new web portal will be as up to date “as it can possibly be,” and the entry protocols will be designed to assure that stays the case.

Christensen also said that having a consistent data entry strategy for the new portal was key.

“The double data entry almost ensures it’s going to be out of date,” he said of any site that requires multiple agencies to maintain it.

Christensen said the portal will make promoting economic development in the county “more efficient and effective.”

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips asked if Christensen had seen something similar in Mississippi, where Christensen worked before coming to Guilford County. Christensen said the database in that state was “ancient” when he left and that the state had been working on improving it.

Phillips said he thinks the creation of the web portal is a solid step in the right direction when it comes to promoting economic development in Guilford County.

“It’s not just a great idea – it’s a necessity,” Phillips said.