Attracting business through virtual reality

Attracting business through virtual reality Main Photo

22 Aug 2019

data centers, economic development

Relationships are key to economic development. But let’s face it: This puts rural communities at a disadvantage in business attraction since site selectors don’t often have the time and money to visit small, remote towns.

When in-person meetings aren’t possible, the right technology can do an excellent job of bridging the communication gap. Virtual reality (VR) has proven to be the next best method for showcasing community assets and capturing the attention of busy site selectors.

Great River Energy partnered with economic development communications firm Golden Shovel Agency early to pioneer innovative VR technology for use in economic development.

Tom Lambrecht, manager of economic development at Great River Energy, Aaron Brossoit of Golden Shovel and Brian Hanson of APEX presented on immersive familiarization (FAM) tours and site selection tours at the Economic Development Association of Minnesota (EDAM) Summer Conference in Duluth, Minnesota, in June.

Brossoit remarked at the beginning of the talk that VR has moved beyond science fiction into the realm of what’s possible and noted that it is a powerful trend that economic developers can’t afford to ignore.

APEX just released a new virtual FAM tour, which was highlighted during the presentation. Hanson pointed to the immersive video’s value in drawing people in and illustrating the vastness of the APEX region. He reported rave reviews from site selectors who experienced the tour and hadn’t seen this revolutionary VR platform used before in the economic development realm.

One of Hanson’s favorite comments came from a Chicago-based consultant, who commented to his Bay Area-based colleague: “What’s cool is that this innovation is coming out of Duluth, Minnesota.”

Lambrecht showed VR videos of Great River Energy’s shovel-ready data sites in North Mankato and St. Cloud. He noted that the video can be used not just to appeal to site selectors but to showcase sites to other state leaders and stakeholders and relayed a story about Gov. Tim Walz’s positive response to Great River Energy’s VR video.

“That technology made an impact on him,” Lambrecht said.

Great River Energy and APEX are using virtual meeting rooms to guide people through their VR tours in real time. Participants enter the videos and explore the tours together. It’s an incredibly engaging and realistic sensory experience, complete with interactivity and 3-D sound.

Hanson and Lambrecht agreed this process of showing the video and interacting with site selectors and other leaders is invaluable because it opens the door to socializing with them and building rapport and long-term relationships.

The virtual tours are an investment that involved risk and hard work. But the impressive and engaging results of our efforts make it worthwhile.

Great River Energy is committed to staying on top of such technological trends. Its economic development team intends to continue to employ the best available tools to promote its member-owner cooperative service areas and all the advantages they have to offer.