A few years ago while working in site selection for an Irish government agency I noticed a major data problem. Part of my job description was to help internationally expanding Irish companies with research on the Canadian market. For example, if an Irish manufacturer was interested in opening up a facility in Canada, I would be the point of contact to help them with the research required to build a shortlist of communities.
It sounded fairly easy when I was first tasked with this, but it quickly turned into a nightmare for me. I would need to search which communities in Canada were manufacturing friendly, had the right incentives, the right labour force or even data specific as local water lagoon capacity. It was during this process where I would painfully spend countless hours trying to find relevant data on Canadian communities for my client.
If I was able to find relevant data, it was either out of date or came in the format of a 50 page PDF community profile. Now, imagine trying to go through 20+ of these community profiles all to try and find that one little piece of key information? Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
If I couldn’t find the data I needed online, I would need to call the communities, taking up even more precious time. When it comes to data, I learned that most communities are reactive vs. proactive meaning when a site selector or expanding company calls needing a particular piece of data, the economic developer must scramble to find this data.
The scary truth is most site selection is now done anonymously and online (source). What this means for communities is that if their data isn’t online and readily available, there’s a very good chance they’re being overlooked.
As a result, I realized finding all this data was a very time-consuming process and wondered why this was? It was a problem that lingered with me for the longest time and I wanted to solve it.
The Idea for Townfolio was Born.
A few years passed with this problem buried somewhere in the back of my mind and then the idea to create a unified profile system of communities for purposes of investment attraction and site selection popped into my head.
Long story short, after some preliminary feedback and assembling a team with two other co-founders, before “taking the plunge” and creating any software or a business, we did our research, a year and a half of it to be precise. By interviewing dozens of economic developers and municipal governments across Canada we wanted to learn about their challenges with online marketing and common pain points that everyone shared.
We quickly found out that many economic developers are quite overwhelmed with diverse job duties. Across the board, from the smallest towns to big cities, we found pain points in three common areas all economic developers face.
First off, we learned that economic developers wear multiple hats. It could be switching between economic development marketing to urban planning or literally being the only person in the town office doing everything from administrative duties and collecting taxes to economic development. The point is, most EcDevs we talk to feel under-resourced.
Second, we discovered that many economic developers lack the budget to afford the traditional and digital marketing solutions currently available for investment attraction. Towns and villages, in particular, have a hard time finding the budget to afford existing solutions, if any.
Third, many economic developers lack the technical skills to try and manage their own digital marketing efforts, let alone keep up with the evolving trends of technology. From building and updating websites to finding, understanding and updating data, EcDevs have told us they do not have the skills to manage this properly.
We learned that because of these constraints, most communities spend so much of their time on defence (doing different duties, trying to find data, etc), and we wanted to create a solution to allow them to spend more time on offence (promoting their community and having data ready when needed).
Built By EcDevs For EcDevs.
With this research in hand, we proudly created Townfolio based on feedback from potential clients, not assumptions we had about the industry from working as a site selector.
From this research, we’ve created our first software solution to assist economic developers and communities with their investment attraction efforts and make the site selection process easier for expanding companies, entrepreneurs, and foreign investors.
Click here to read Part 2.