August 11, 2010 By Russell Nichols
As businesses shuffle from building to building in a given year, keeping track of occupancies can get tricky and costly.
That used to be the case in Cape Coral, Fla., which had been paying $30,000 a year on a tool that city officials said produced inaccurate results. City officials urged commercial brokers to put available properties into the free tool. Few complied, and those who did rarely posted updates, which forced city officials to have to hunt down the data for interested parties.
"We could not get our arms around it," said Audie Lewis, business recruitment specialist for the city.
Now the city's Economic Development Office (EDO) has moved to a different model to track available commercial properties in the city. EDO recently announced a subscription to CoStar, a national online company that tracks commercial properties for realtors and other subscribers. In a joint membership with the Community Redevelopment Area, the city only pays $230 a month, which means it saves about $27,000 a year.
The fact that the city isn't selling any property factors into the special pricing, Lewis added, acknowledging that local governments are not the company's target audience. But with CoStar, city officials can customize the tool to fit their needs, sorting the data by conditions such as size, cost range and demographics of verified commercial properties.
"It's a way to push properties, analyze, compare and give data out to people in the city," Lewis said. "Now when somebody calls and they need 10,000 square feet of office space, we can hop on CoStar and give a full report of all available properties within the city limit that meets their criteria."
The move by EDO is one example of how local governments are trying to get a better handle on property management. The recession flipped the market on its head, but local officials have been keeping an eye on building trends for signs of an upswing. In July, the Los Angeles County Public Works Department launched a new Twitter account (@LACoSurveyor) to display the latest tract and parcel maps. Followers can monitor economic trends by watching for changes in the number of recorded subdivision maps throughout Los Angeles County.
In CoStar's national database, listings include the name, address and photo of the property and note whether it's industrial, office, retail or flex space. Additional details include the square footage, parking and the building's percentage of floor space occupied. The company also tracks vacant land and buildings in permitting.
Before, when clients wanted to know where to find new development and how much space was available, the city had limited answers.
"It's always been difficult to know exactly where there's available space for businesses because building occupancies can change several times over any given year," Christy Vogt, EDO's business development coordinator, said in a release. "Now, we subscribe to a database containing this vital information."
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.