IEDC: Is it time to take the conference digital?

The premise of this year’s International Economic Developers Council (IEDC) annual conferenceEmpower Tomorrow: Creating Success in a Global Economy, is addressing the challenges and opportunities of growing jobs and investment in today’s global economy.  From September 30th to October 3rd, the delegates will be in Houston to discuss a wide range of timely issues including:

  • Tools and strategies that communities can use to make themselves relevant and resilient in the global economy
  • The role of economic developers in leading community development
  • Identifying and developing community assets that are cost-effective and complement local advantages

While these discussions are happening in Houston a much broader audience of economic developers and city builders have been left out, because the conference is not available online.  This is a tremendous missed opportunity. The opinions and ideas of those people at this international conference are not being shared with those keen observers and stakeholders around the world. Consequently, the international economic development community is not effectively communicating or coordinating its collective resources to address the economic problems that so many communities are struggling with.

There is strong evidence that shows that the type of face-to-face networking and professional education happening during the IEDC Conference is still strong in the US.  In 2011, across the US, $263 billion dollars was spent at 1.8 million conventions, conferences, congresses, trade shows, exhibitions, incentive events and corporate/business meetings.  These events attracted over 205 million people.  The numbers though, pale in comparison to the online video numbers.  Each month, 38 billion videos are viewed online in the US with an average length of 6.2 minutes.  ForaTV, a video conference and event company, uses an address that the head of Stanford University’s Design School, George Kemble gave at the “Chautauqua ideas festival” to illustrate the power of combining a traditional conference with online media. It goes something like this: in attendance to hear George Kemble address were 150 people; an additional 500 people watched the address live online; and within 30 days of the event 325,000 people had watched the address on-demand.

If the IEDC is to truly help communities develop the tools and strategies to make them relevant in the global economy, then the Council should aim to make the conference widely accessible.  Economic activity is no longer confined to conference centers and board rooms.  Information technology has thrown open the economy, allowing broad participation, more collaborative decision making and more transparency.  Failing to put the conference online suggests that the IEDC and its members need to more quickly embrace information technologies.

One way the IEDC can advocate for information technology adoption within the profession is by using new state of the art technologies to engage with its members.  The IEDC must demonstrate to its members that in the knowledge based economy, the internet, mobile communications and a range of software services are not just pretty tools to play with now and again. Rather, information technology based tools and applications are table-stakes for providing the level of service business and stakeholder expect from the profession.