by Jim Boyle
The Elk River Economic Development Authority is in the early stages of exploring a software program that could be used to better understand factors such as Elk River’s retail trade area, workforce commuting patterns and benchmarking other data sets.
The cost, however, tells them they either need to find partners or leave it up to the private sector.
Brent O’Neil presented information to the EDA on Dec. 20 about the cutting-edge software that is offered as a subscription service by Placer.ai. He explained how the location intelligence platform could be used to examine trade areas, uncover trends and examine changes in market shares.
Commissioners had mixed reactions, with some questioning whether it was something the EDA should be looking at, while others seemed more interested in seeing the many and varied applications and looking into additional partners. Among the potential partners mentioned were different departments within the city, the chamber of commerce and the Elk River Area School District.
A one-year subscription to this service has been quoted at approximately $14,000.
City staff was contacted by officials of Placer.ai, the firm behind the software that anonymously tracks location and data analytics via cellphones and other devices. O’Neil brought the information forward to gauge interest on the part of the EDA.
He said the software could be used by a number of departments at the city, and information gathered could be shared with other entities, including companies looking to make decisions related to moving or expanding. He said one concern he had is whether it would be used well enough to get the full value out of it. Dan Tveite, the chairman of the EDA, said it would also be important to know what resources it would take to make the use of the software worthwhile.
EDA member Garrett Christianson asked about where the information would be published and what would be the city’s return on investment.
Jennifer Wagner, who serves on the EDA and the City Council with Christianson, said it’s exactly the kind of information that Ryan Hardin, of Hardin Companies, is going to want to sell the city’s properties.
Christianson said so what’s to stop him from using that and paying for it versus the city purchasing it for other people.
O’Neil said that’s a great question, and that a cost-benefit analysis would need to be done to see how it could be used and for what benefit.
EDA members agreed that searching for partners within the city and outside the city would be appropriate. The matter appears headed for a work session to talk about these and other questions, and it could include a more formal presentation from the company itself.
“There’s a lot of horsepower in this program,” said O’Neil during a brief presentation.
Placer.ai gathers anonymized location data from tens of millions of mobile devices as a core panel. The software then analyzes and provides estimations on physical market activity across the United States. From there, a wealth of detailed reports containing insights into people and places in terms of foot traffic and auto traffic can be gained.
The software tracks visitation patterns among residents, visitors and employees. It also can show where people go outside of its city to spend money and what brand affinities they have. The information can show whether an area might be underperforming and/or ripe for development.
For example, the city of Bloomington, Illinois, leveraged Placer.ai to assist a broker with the leasing of a vacant site by showing the incomes of customers surrounding vacant sites.
Placer.ai software can also provide information on how many customers an event drives and what the visitors’ demographics are.
Examples that were mentioned during Monday’s meeting included information about people coming to and leaving Thursday night concerts in the park or the new community event center.
Such information could be used in developing strategy and planning by pointing out the strengths of a city and its specific venues and help point out where there are opportunities.
Wagner said she has used similar software in her marketing profession and sees a great deal of potential.
EDA members want to see if they can harness it in a cost-effective way.