SHERIDAN — Questions about how best to market Sheridan to the national business community were front and center at Wednesday’s meeting of the Sheridan County Economic Development Taskforce.
Representatives from several public and private entities were on hand for a presentation by a nationally recognized economic development expert concerning how community leaders might best grow the area’s economy in the months and years to come.
Janet Ady, president and CEO of the Wisconsin-based economic strategy firm Ady-Voltedge, told listeners that while Sheridan still has work to do when it comes to expanding its economic base, city and business officials have laid a solid foundation for future development.
A consultant contracted by the Wyoming Business Council, Ady made her second visit to Sheridan this week after having reviewed the city’s marketing materials and spoken with representatives of private industry.
“I really get the sense you know what your strengths are,” she told the group.
Ady said efforts such as the 2007 Wadley-Donovan report — a document that outlined Sheridan’s economic assets and potential for future growth — and a forthcoming study of the area’s educational infrastructure by the Sheridan Economic and Educational Development Authority will allow economic development leaders to pursue growth in a way that conforms with the needs of the community and its workforce.
Still, Ady said community leaders might consider expanding their thinking when it comes to matters of marketing.
“I would maybe start thinking of your region as a little bit bigger (than just Sheridan County),” she said. “You want to be seen as kind of the magnet.”
Ady suggested that Sheridan market itself as a talent hub. Without large markets of customers to drive business, an emphasis on the highly educated nature of the area’s workforce is essential in attracting new industry, she said.
She added that taskforce members would be wise to further refine their message. Communities looking to grow their economies too often settle on platitudes concerning factors such as quality of life, she said, but such messages are often drowned out by hundreds if not thousands of similar talking points from cities across the country.
Having met with a business owner who mentioned a recent personal conversation with Gov. Matt Mead, Ady said Sheridan might emphasize unique Wyoming factors such as easy access to public officials.
“That’s not normal (in most states),” she said.
For their part, taskforce members said any potential message to out-of-town companies must present a holistic image of the city as both a scenic destination and also a modern city focused on economic growth.
“That’s our best shot at reaching these folks,” said Mayor Dave Kinskey.
Ady also suggested several other factors such as the Sheridan County Airport and the area’s relatively large amount of philanthropic wealth as potential selling points for the community.
Dave Spencer, northeast regional director of the Wyoming Business Council, agreed that business-specific factors such as Wyoming’s tax climate and its ever-expanding broadband network must be emphasized just as much, if not more, as the scenic nature of the state.
“I think we have to be careful to not portray ourselves as this pristine 18th Century antithesis of the modern business environment,” he said. “You want that (Western) flavor of things, but you don’t want it to be your overriding message.”
Further efforts by community leaders to refine Sheridan’s branding strategy are also underway.