Like every organization, the COVID pandemic forced the Wichita Falls Chamber to adjust its economic development strategy. Unlike our competition, we virtually altered our approach, or to rephrase it in a better way, we have altered our approach…VIRTUALLY!
Wichita Falls began with an aggressive approach
Early this year, the Chamber undertook an aggressive outreach program with site consultants, industry thought leaders and industrial brokerage firms. We executed a visit program in Dallas and joined Team Texas on a Chicago Mission Trip. Our program was also an active participant at the Site Selectors Guild’s Annual Meeting in Atlanta this past March. While attending the program, we pushed the Wichita Falls brand to over 30 leading site consultants.
By mid-March, The Chamber was planning an aggressive call trip to Atlanta, Greenville (SC) and the West Coast…until the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. All trips were cancelled, all plans ceased.
Understand, as economic developers, it is our job to get in front of prospects. No one expects a site consultant or industry to say, “wow, those communities can’t come and visit me now, I better reach out to them.”
Thus, the Wichita Falls Chamber executed a “pivot” to its outreach strategy to ensure our brand remained relevant and recognized. How did we succeed at this? By going virtual.
Going Virtual – Strategies shifted to online platforms
First, since we could not have actual meetings, we were one of the first to begin host “virtual” meetings with site consultant leaders like Global Locations Strategies, Site Selection Group, Newmark Knight Frank, Deloitte, Colliers, Szatan & Associates, WDG Consulting, Maxis Advisors, Atlas Insight, Garner Economics, McGuire Woods and many more.
This innovative approach provided us the opportunity to establish the Wichita Falls brand in a manner never seen before. Tools, like Zoom, allowed to host a larger group than personal visits permit. In addition, Wichita Falls strengthened its positioning by partnering with Governor Abbott’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism along with Team Texas to demonstrate a collaborative approach to economic development.
Virtual Tools – Innovation began with virtual spec buildings
In 2019, a team consisting of the Chamber’s Marketing Director Katie Britt, BYSP Architect Dick Bundy, and Anthony Inman of Inman Construction began working on a state-of-the-art virtual “spec” building. It’s completion mid-2020 has elevated our outreach effort and offered a more robust tool for prospects.
Actual spec buildings, while beneficial, pose potential risks and obstacles. A prospect might like the building but find it unusable because the sidewalls are not high enough, column spacing is too narrow, additional floor drains are needed, there are not enough truck docks or they are in the wrong location…along with a whole host of other problems.
The virtual spec building rectifies all these problems because plans have already been developed, but if changes are needed, that can easily and inexpensively be adjusted on the plans BEFORE the actual building goes up.
However, what differentiates our virtual spec building from others is the amount of detail supporting this program. Not only did we create a video showcasing two buildings: one starting at 30,000 SF and expandable to 60,000 SF and a second starting at 60,000 SF expandable to 120,000 SF, but we provide detailed supporting information about the building.
A Basis of Design Report details floor thickness, column spacing, ceiling heights, structural components, and much more. Our virtual building also provides an estimate of construction timelines, estimated costs for construction and permitting along with site layout.
More virtual tours of buildings
One would believe that our program could stop here because we have established the fact that Wichita Falls is ahead of the curve and is addressing business outreach issues due to the COVID pandemic. However, as the famous television commercial says, “But wait, there’s more….”
The Chamber decided to take the virtual concept to the next level and contracted with Wichita Falls-based NVR360, a cutting-edge virtual tour technology company that provides immersive tours for the residential, office, commercial, and industrial sector.
Our first product was a simulated tour of 2915 East Central Freeway, the former Beacon Insurance Building. This 36,000 SF plug & play call center/data center offers easy access to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, ample parking plenty of space for growth.
Our virtual tour allows viewers to enter the front door of the building, tour both floors of the facility and even measure each room. The 3D virtual tour allows you to view the facility in a “dollhouse” configuration, see floor plans, select which floor you want to see, and even allows you to measure any space you like.
The Beacon Building is the first of many spaces that we will provide virtual 3D tours of and all will be available on our site and building website.
The pandemic of 2020 forced economic development to adjust its overall strategy for business recruitment. The choice was simple, either sit and try to wait out the situation or create a new approach to differentiate Wichita Falls from its competition.
We chose to be aggressive and are confident it will bring dividends for both the short and long term.