By Brice Wallace

An understanding of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) has seemingly always been elusive. Every few years, GOED board members and staff have aired concerns that the public and politicians in the state simply are unaware of GOED’s activities, its programs and its initiatives.

Now, with a new administration in place, a survey has confirmed some of what executive director Dan Hemmert describes as “the perception gaps in GOED.”

Hemmert briefed the GOED board about the survey results during a recent board meeting. They indicate that when respondents were asked open-ended questions, they were uncertain about GOED programs and initiatives or misunderstood GOED’s main corporate recruitment tool, the economic development tax increment financing (EDTIF).

“There is quite a bit of misunderstanding or not good awareness of what EDTIF is and what EDTIF does,” Pete Codella, GOED’s director of marketing and communications, told the board. “And now that we have the rural EDTIF, I think there’s a great opportunity for our office to talk about corporate incentives.”

Codella noted that most of the respondents are convinced that GOED provides incentives only to out-of-state companies, despite more than two-thirds of incentives going to retain or grow Utah-based companies. “We’re supporting local entrepreneurs and local businesses, so that’s another key message that we need to get out,” he said.

Only 25 percent of respondents correctly identified that two-thirds of EDTIF contracts are with Utah-based companies. Other results show that more than half of respondents correctly identified all of GOED’s initiatives, except for workforce pathway programs (25 percent) and licensing mixed martial arts events (7 percent). Fifty-seven percent already subscribe to GOED’s monthly “Business Elevated” newsletter, and 32 percent have listened to the “Business Elevated” podcast — a figure that Codella said left him “a little discouraged.”

As low as the numbers are, they could have been worse. The February survey was sent to email lists owned by GOED, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah and World Trade Center Utah, and shared on those organizations’ social media channels. Codella described it as “a warm audience and a fairly familiar audience.”

Hemmert and board member Steve Neeleman both said a wider survey pool would have yielded smaller numbers.

“I would guess if you went and picked a hundred business leaders from rural Utah and other places from off the street and asked them about it, I would guess the perception rates would be a lot lower,” Neeleman said.

While Codella said GOED might do more video storytelling, Hemmert was at a bit of loss to address the misperceptions, but he insisted GOED will tackle them.

“I have an opinion that it’s a proactive advertising/marketing campaign. … There is a messaging mission we can go on where we make sure we’re always talking about what we do and how we do it,” Hemmert said.

“But, as you know, one-on-one conversations only go so far. I’m trying to think through how do we propagate a message that’s bigger and broader, and outside of mass marketing and messaging, I’m not sure I know how do to that. … We need to make sure people know what we do and how the things we do work.”

Another misperception is that GOED is focused only on corporate recruitment and incentives, when in reality it has lots of programs and activities to boost the state’s economic development. At the same board meeting, for example, the board not only had an EDTIF incentive, but also approved an economic development zone and a few film and TV production incentives.

Hemmert noted that the state’s tourism marketing has been effective and could serve as a model for some broader messaging.

“Maybe we need to do some proactive, outbound marketing for these business service and assistance programs and incentive programs we have, to help people know that we’re here and we want to work with you and get stuff done,” he said.

“I don’t know why we wouldn’t aggressively market what we are, what we can offer, what it means to the state of Utah, because there’s an indelible link between our activity and the quality of life in the state of Utah,” added board member Susan Johnson. “That’s just the way it is, and we need to get that word out there.”

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