Harrison is the new business development and research manager at the Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development.
On duties and responsibilities
I'm tasked with leading the department's research efforts and participating in our business retention, expansion and attraction programs. Research primarily consists of compiling information about the city and its business-related assets and disseminating it. Information is key when businesses are looking to expand or open a new operation, and a strong research program is a necessity for any economic development office, especially when we're competing for projects globally in an age of instant communication. I will also be working with existing companies to provide them with the information they need when making the decision to expand, and meeting with business prospects in the hope of making the case that Virginia Beach is best for their business.
The internet and economic development
A strong presence on the web is vital for economic development, and I will ensure that our website and social media efforts serve not only as a marketing tool, but also as a resource.
When a company is seeking a new location for their business, they often turn to various economic development sites as a means of narrowing down their search. It is imperative that our website be both user-friendly and informative; otherwise a company may eliminate Virginia Beach without our having ever had the chance to make our case.
We will seek to display the latest demographic and business-related data in a format that is friendly on both traditional computers and mobile devices, and utilize social media as a way to interact with city residents and other interested parties.
Importance of social media
Just as it was essential only a few short years ago for the city to develop a website, today the city must become engaged on various social media platforms.
Direct, personal contact is always the most important and effective means of communication; today, though, there are many more avenues to provide that direct connection. As our experience on the web shifts from viewing static web pages to discovering and reacting to news in an interactive social media environment, the goal of marketing the city as a great place to live and work remains paramount.
The city's primary efforts in social media are handled by the Media and Communications Department. While the Economic Development Department will not necessarily dedicate a part of our budget to social media, we are including it as part of our overall marketing strategy.
Social media sites allow us to highlight the successes of Virginia Beach companies and promote our attractive business environment and quality of life. Marketing the city through social/digital media is worth the effort because it is an extremely cost-effective way for the city to disseminate information to a wide variety of people.
To be effective, though, our use of social/digital media has to be strategic and targeted - we have to use the proper form of communication with each of our many audiences (i.e., local citizens, existing businesses, business prospects, commercial real estate brokers, national and international site selection consultants, etc.).
On previous employment experience
Serving as research director at Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance was an invaluable learning experience that played a large role in preparing me for my new position with Virginia Beach. My responsibilities included running the research department that supported the 15 communities represented by the alliance and assisting in the development of new, innovative ways to attract business to the region.
During my tenure I made great strides to ensure that the research tools available to the alliance were also available to the localities and Hampton Roads community at large.
I hope to develop a research department in Virginia Beach that will be equally effective and accessible to the city's many stakeholders and business prospects.
Co-chair of the Virginia Economic Developers Association Young Professionals committee
The Virginia Economic Developers Association allows local, regional and state economic development professionals from across Virginia to exchange ideas, work together, and in the process, become more effective in their respective roles. The Young Professionals committee was established to allow younger people to become more engaged in VEDA and to assist in attracting skilled and talented individuals to the profession.
The young professionals on the committee serve as great spokespeople for the organization, and will be asked to communicate or even return to their colleges to promote both Virginia and the economic development profession. My co-chair and I are responsible for setting up networking events designed to allow members to share ideas and information across municipal lines, and serve as a voice for the committee to the organization's leadership.
I am primarily tasked with engaging young professionals located on the eastern side of Virginia, including Hampton Roads and the Richmond area.
As the staff member assigned to lead the department's research efforts, I have the distinct pleasure of working on a variety of projects in both leading and supporting roles. When not serving as the main point of contact for a prospective business or existing firm, I work to ensure that the city's skilled labor pool, low cost of doing business and desirable quality of life are successfully communicated.
Virginia Beach is becoming increasingly known as an international business destination, and the department expects 2012 to be one of our most successful years to date.
Drive, focus and leadership skills
I have always had a passion for Virginia Beach and for public service. While attending the College of William and Mary and obtaining a bachelor's degree in government and a master's degree in public policy, my goal was always to come back and work for my hometown of Virginia Beach.
Economic development allows me to serve the city by encouraging businesses to invest and assist in further diversifying our economy.
I had the privilege to serve in many leadership roles during my time at William and Mary, including a tenure as president of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and as a director of the University Center Activities Board. Through these experiences I developed a collaborative leadership style, characterized by seeking out talented individuals and encouraging them to work together to achieve an optimum result.
While at Kempsville High School I participated in the "Official for a Day" program, and I am thrilled to be back as a Virginia Beach official for many days to come.nib