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2/12/2004

Software streamlines employer survey

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Economic development is all about recruiting and retaining primary employers and the Longmont Area Economic Council and organizations like it now have access to a sophisticated and reasonably priced retention tool.

Last year, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development bought the rights to a software program called “Synchronist,” and economic development organizations who choose to become sub-licensees of the software will use it to track issues of concern to primary employers in their area.

In Longmont’s case, the LAEC has, for years, conducted what it calls an annual “primary employer update” — surveying executives from local companies on topics such as the health of their industry and plans for any expansion or contraction of their workforce.

Executives also are queried on their thoughts on things outside the company, such as the local school district, the price of housing and the quality and availability of the local workforce.

Synchronist, developed by Illinois-based Blane Canada Ltd., an economic development consulting company, is a program that manages and filters the information in highly detailed fashion.

“I’ve been interested in this program for a long time — it’s a better predictive tool,” said John Cody, the LAEC’s president and CEO. “There are no perfect predictive tools, but this is a better one.”

The LAEC’s survey is conducted by the organization’s Existing Industry Committee, a group of 24 volunteers who, this year, will contact 232 primary employers in the area.

“The No. 1 goal of the primary employer update is to let primary employers know they’re important to us and we care about what’s happening in their industry,” said Wendi Nafziger, the LAEC’s staff liaison with the EIC. “They’re here, and they could be anywhere, and we want to let them know we appreciate their presence, because providing jobs is one of the main goals of the economic council.

“The reason we did this” — Synchronist — “was we felt this might be a good way to expand on the process we already do.”

Chuck Broerman, a business development specialist with the Governor’s OED, said the state decided to buy the Synchronist program to give organizations across the state access to the program by becoming sub-licensees. For most, buying a license for the program on their own would be cost-prohibitive, he said.

“With the state’s buying a license, we’ve been able to let communities have very sophisticated software,” Broerman said, adding that the state chose Synchronist because it was a “turn-key” system. “If you’re new to economic development, or if you’re a sophisticated pro, there’s something in there for you.”

Broerman said 80 percent of new jobs come from current primary employers, and it takes eight to nine times the amount of money to “create” a new job than it takes to retain an old one.

“(Synchronist) is a valuable tool, and we want to give the economic developers in the communities all the tools for their toolbox that they can handle,” Broerman said.

He became familiar with Synchronist because it was already being used by a group of organizations in the Colorado Springs area, where he is based, and he became convinced of its effectiveness.

Aside from Longmont, economic developers with Adams County, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Greeley and Weld County have signed up for the program. A group of nine counties in the northeast part of the state have also banded together to become sub-licensees, something they never could have afforded to do individually.

“Once those counties interview 10 percent of their primary employers, the state will reimburse half their cost,” Broerman said. “We don’t want this to just sit on the shelf; we want people to use it.”

The LAEC’s fee for Synchronist was $3,400, and there is a nominal yearly maintenance fee, Nafziger said. Getting reimbursed for half the cost of the program will be no problem, she said, since the response rate from the LAEC’s annual survey is usually about 60 percent.

Thirteen states and 160 communities are currently using Synchronist to aid in their employer retention efforts, Broerman said.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.