Chamber using new software to recruit businesses

Monday, March 6, 2006

Want to know how much Cape Girardeau County residents shelled out on alcoholic beverages in 2005? Or how much they spent on paint and wallpaper? Or how about exactly how long it takes to drive from Paducah, Ky., to Jackson?

John Mehner could tell you. With a few strokes on a keyboard and the click of a return button, the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO now has massive amounts of demographic information as close as his computer.

Six months ago, the local chamber implemented new software and programs that gives it access to timely, accurate and comprehensive market information that Mehner says will forever change the way new businesses are recruited.

"It's huge," Mehner said last week during a demonstration. "There is so much awesome information that we really never had access to before. It's going to be a huge lift to recruiting efforts -- both by us and by developers."

During the demonstration using a subscription-only Web site -- demographicsnow.com -- Mehner gave an example of comparing Cape Girardeau County to McCracken County, home of Paducah, Ky., a main competitor for drawing in business.

Mehner called up a Consumer Expenditure Comparison Report that showed that, for example, Cape Girardeau County has 28,906 total households to McCracken County's 27,609. The median household income here is more than $40,000. There, it's $37,000. In this county, the total household expenditures is $43,805. There, it's $42,407.

But the company that gathers the massive amount of demographic data -- SRC -- breaks the data down further. The report shows comparisons to how much people spend on cigarettes, books, electricity, natural gas, health care and mass transit, just to name a few.

"It's all right here," Mehner said.

Even Time magazine has raved about it, calling it "one of the best Web business sites."

"There's a wealth of data on population, income and such available online from the government at no charge, but it may not be tailored to your business needs. Several paid sites offer this service, and this is one of the most comprehensive."

Some prospects Cape Girardeau doesn't have that the database could be useful in attracting include Bed, Bath & Beyond, Belk, Borders Books & Music, Gander Mountain, Linens 'n Things, Sports Authority and Stein Mart.

The chamber and local developers can look at a franchise business -- say, Bed, Bath & Beyond -- in Paducah and show the company it could be just as successful in Cape Girardeau.

"We couldn't do that before," Mehner said. "We hoped people would come here and take a look at us, and it would be up to us to convince them that Cape was a great place."

But people want to see some numbers when it comes to making money. Mehner said the databases -- compiled by statistical experts across the country -- include a lot of information that CEOs and company presidents find crucial.

The database includes a wealth of market data, Mehner said, including five-year projections. He can look at population, income, housing, age, education, daytime population, business counts and employment/occupation data.

Mehner said such information shows business leaders that if their business is successful in other places where the numbers aren't as great as in Cape Girardeau, then they ought to at least consider expanding in this area.

He said the chamber has already used the database. Two or three new businesses have come here in the six months since it's been installed. Mehner said he can't imagine it won't be a big part of any major new recruiting efforts in Cape Girardeau County.

"We're letting developers know we have this as a tool," Mehner said. "We can include all this information as part of presentations. We've always been comparing markets for recruitment purposes, but this really helps."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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