Government to Business #6: Andy Vargas & Nate Robertson on Haverhill's Business Portal
Welcome. To government to business the, go-to location for, executives, delivering, digital, services, to business and now. Here's, your host gavin. Atkinson. Getae. Folks welcome to government to business today, I have a short, sharp, and to the point but geez a rather. Value, bomb impactful. Interview. Today with Andy, Boggs who is the state, representatives, within Massachusetts. The actual the. Statehouse in Massachusetts, in the United States and. Also. With Nate Robertson, who is the assistant, economic development, director with. In, Haverhill. A municipal. Local council, in, Massachusetts. Haverhill. Is one, of those cities. Which is you know not massive, in the sense of like a New York, or a Los Angeles but it's not a small, little you, know barely. A city type of arrangement, either so. If you run a municipal, government or a local council, anywhere. Around the world there's. Some really excellent learnings from these guys around. How a local, government can bring together an. Entrepreneurial. Minded. Business. Folks within the city how, they can attract, people, from all. Around the state and potentially. Nationally. Who, want to relocate and, relocate. In a more business friendly environment. They. Talk, a lot around creating. A platform to, encourage. And incentivize. Investors. And entrepreneurs, to, move the city and really. Kind of creating, that whole. Destination. Where. A entrepreneur or business owner goes look I'm looking, for somewhere that's business friendly, I'm interested, in a location that's actually going to help me. Grow. My business even further and if. You are thinking about doing that you, have to listen to these these, these, two gentlemen, as. I said before it's a short sharp interview both, Andy and Nate when I recorded, this with them it was probably. Pretty late in the evening actually in. Massachusetts, time after they've already had about eight meetings. During the day and I think they were about to scoot off right after the interview for another meeting, we kind of cover off the, personal, approach that's adopted with in Haverhill the, concept, of and some of us do this already begging. Forgiveness at, a later date rather than actually kind of going for permission and and. The, importance. Of mentoring, and how a mentoring, can make a significant. Impact to local. Businesses, and to encourage that growth within a particular, location. So a, lot, of incredible insights that you can learn and then apply to your own governments, business, portal and the digital approach to business so. Sit back and enjoy, this, insightful. Impactful. Interview, with, Andy Vargas and Nate. Robertson. Thank. You very much for your time today, guys I'd, like to welcome Andy, and Nate through to the show we're. Going to talk a little bit today around, the favorable, business. Portal and that's, obviously something that you've both been you know integrally, involved in at various points of time could. You tell me just a little bit and share with our audience about what the vision is for that particular business, portal and how, you, were, involved in that process. Sure. Yeah, sure thing so the, idea was and. I'm sure you are familiar with this Gavin as as, well as I when. You go to the municipal, website it's, usually not very user. Friendly. The. Updates, are sporadic, at best they. Tend to be clunky and outdated. And. They're just not they're. Not conducive, to people who who, have busy schedules people. With small businesses, people who are trying to navigate that, stuff so the. Idea, was here. In Haverhill were really trying to incubate, small, businesses, we're really trying to bring together. Entrepreneurially. Minded folks. And. Get, them in. The city, opening. Up space whether it's retail locations, or industrial, parks, and get. Get. Them involved in the city so, to do that we really needed a. Platform. That allowed them to navigate the world of. Business. Incentives, whether that's you, know a real. Estate tax abatements. Or whether that's, workforce. Training grants, get. To more, easily navigate, the world of permitting. If there, are food establishment. What permits do they need to get. Who, do they need to go to what, time are those people in their offices, it won't phone numbers do they have really, simple stuff but I wanted to put that all in one location so, I could.
Just Point even just today I had a meeting, with the business moving to Haverhill, and. She said. Here's. What my timeline was looking like so I'd love to get you. Know set up right, that and she's not thinking, occupant. Beep Irvin she's not thinking. What. Do i you know the, the red tape about it all she's just thinking from her business perspective, stars like well here's what you should do get in touch with the folks over at City Hall so we know what, your schedule is and we can help work with you and I gave her the website address. Haverhill business portal calm and and she, was like wow this is perfect it was all, the information she needed at her fingertips she didn't need to go digging for it she didn't need to start, calling people at 7:30, at night asking, who to talk to, it. Was all they're ready for so yeah I think you know the only thing that I'll add is that you. Know there's sort of two prongs. To. To. Our to our vision for this right one is how can we be helpful, to the business community, whether. That's the business committee that exists, here or the business community that's looking to move here or the, resident, here that is an entrepreneur, and need some assistance and figuring out how do I start my business in the city of Cairo so, that's sort of one prong and ensuring, that information is available to them sort, of the tier two goal also is that it, creates a narrative that Haverhill, is forward-thinking right that Haverhill is thinking about ways. To support the business community, that midsize. Cities midsize. Cities similar to us aren't right and so we're 65,000. People we. Are not a boston we're not in new york we're not you know a very, large city but. It's. Still important to us to, be able to stick out amongst those midsize cities as a thought leader when, it comes to engaging. With the business community and thinking about innovative, ways to address their pain points okay. That makes perfect sense I mean obviously, being a mid-sized. City that's got its own set of challenges as. Well but it's also a whole, heap of opportunities, there I mean one thing that really, I. Suppose, I was intrigued, with and was delighted to kind of see was, that real sense of community that, you actually get through from the portal you know so, many, understandably. Large government. Business portals, tend to be very much based around providing. The transactional, services providing, the information, and just you know doing everything as best as you can within that digital space and digital space only because it takes too much resources otherwise. You're. Obviously in a very very different boat though because you are providing, that real personal. Connectedness, throughout, the site you, know there's not only the videos from a number of the city officials, they're you know they're personally, saying hey you've got a problem give me a call and here's my telephone number and here's my email address I mean even the mayor's on the site obviously doing exactly the same type of thing so, I mean what, was the rationale behind taking, that that personal, approach, on the site. Yes. I think, you. Know one of the most, important, things that we heard from.
Small. Businesses, here in the city of paper but also in general that just the business community, across the state is that in general government is tough to navigate right, we don't know where to go who, to talk to who, are the folks on the other end a lot, of times I've called City Hall and I get you know bounced around to different departments, so for, us it was important to sort of put a face you, know to the name put a face to the phone number and, make it feel as personal, as possible that we were we were there ready. To to serve and. So I think you know that has been helpful when folks visit the website instead of just calling a general, City Hall number they, now have the background of oh I'm calling you know City Clerk Linda Poulos who has this video message and I'm, calling this number directly, to get my question answered immediately. Also. Think it's it's just a so, much more of a humanizing, element. I. Know, the folks who work at City Hall are some of the most hard-working folks, that I know and they're so knowledgeable and they have, so. Much experience and, it's tough to communicate, that in the block of text yeah so, it's. I think it's, humanizing. It's a way it's a way to communicate, this, is Linda this is who the face of the person you're gonna be talking to is and she's gonna walk you through some of that stuff now and, suddenly it's not this. Big, sterile, block of text that's looking at you in the face it's Linda, the city clerk who, is gonna greet you when you walk into the door and it's, it's a more human element it's it's, a less scary element, and I also think ultimately it's, a more helpful element, and have you got any early, feedback from from businesses, around it and how it connects, to the city. Absolutely. I've used it I like I said I used it today were the business and, yes relocated, and they absolutely loved, it I've used it probably. With. With, three or four small businesses. Who are either already located in the city and had questions, or relocating. To the city and, had questions, and I've, gotten positive feedback from all of them what's, really. Great. About the website is is. Our competition, isn't too tough I mean if you look at Mena simple websites across the spectrum they. All tied it kind of have that clunky, feel to us so we. Haverhill, is a lucky, to have been able to to, focus on on something, very. Tangible. Something very real that we can task, we, can take on and then we, can deliver a better, service and, I think that's really done. Wonders for us and creating. A reputation for being business for anyway and. I'm, kind of thinking at the same time, that's. Quite a challenge you know it makes a lot of common sense to be delivering that type of experience, for businesses, and you know to get them to start to get them to move to the city and so forth, but. Obviously a lot of governments whether you're talking municipal, state federal you. Know there's a lot of bureaucracy there and there's a lot of people who are looking after their own little patches, so to speak and you know looking, after that how did you break through that and create that that connection, between the various areas through the cities to deliver that integrated, experience for the customer. Yes. I think sort. Of related to your point on navigating, the bureaucracy, and actually you, know, making this happen. One, of the things that I. Think, was key was the fact that we we just kind of set off and did it right we didn't wait for money.
To Be allocated, for us to do this I was, a city councillor at the time and so I said look, there are so many platforms, out there that we can use to build beautiful websites, without writing a single line of code right and so, as a city councilor I embarked, on this journey of engaging. With different stakeholders so the chamber of commerce and, the local broadcast. Cable. Station here HC Media who, did all the videos, the. State. Agency, that works, on economic development and I just said hey I'm building you know I'm starting to work on this website and. It's, not gonna cost us anything because I'm paid to host it right now it's like ten dollars a month and. It's, you, know within a month we're probably gonna you, know, set. The course to build a website that will look better that, will definitely look better than the entire city website then, ultimately I handed the keys to this guy, and. Who, built. What, we see today so I think an important part of this is recognizing. That you know if you're in, municipal, government right now or in state government, right now where. We are today with technology is, oh but. You really democratizes. On this space right it makes, it more accessible for, anybody. To build solutions, for the. Business community on. Their own and then you know once you have something tangible that you can touch that you can see that you. Can present I. Think that that's where you could really add some value in that scale as we did with, name taking the keys and running with it yeah and I want an echo Andy's point of and. I know he didn't say it quite like this but I think there's a, certain. Value in, doing. Something first, and then asking for forgiveness, and more funding, later. Because. Once you so somebody, like this, is what we could have or it's gonna go away in a month unless we continue, to focus on it or allocate, some money towards it right then people go oh no, this this makes a lot of sense that we want this, and. With. The amount of technology we have at our fingertips, we'd, be it's. It's often the best drive. There's an excellent point no, I totally. Agree with you. Where, do you see things going from here though I mean as you said attorney in its first months of infancy. Where. Are the opportunities for. Its development to you know continue to build on that experience for businesses I. Gavin. I gotta say I really, liked the write-up you did on the, on. The business portal and I appreciate. You I I, know I mean, I'm maybe I'm a geek about this stuff but I read, it and I was like okay this is a guy who gets. It probably more than I do I, mean, I think, the, points that you brought up were really, valid, it and I think pointed, to roadmap. Going forward which, is we. Have this great kind of landing, page how, do we better integrate, it into you know a website, municipal, website, how. Do we declutter, kind of the municipal. Website the main you, know see a payroll page and integrate, our business our new shiny business, portal into it and. How do we keep that updated how, do we continue you know putting news articles, how do we continue maybe linking. Up a social, media page with like a Facebook, or Twitter and making, it more of a living page. But. I really, appreciated, your article, as. As, a point of praise but also as. A kind. Of a road, map in terms of the direction that forward, yeah, I think the next the next point is you know we've built something great now let's cut it in front of people all right so as Nate, mentioned you. Know it's a social, media campaign it's looking at how we can use Google Ads, it's. And. It's also thinking about how we can grow the content that's on there so I think one of the things that we. Can grow. In is in the amount of mentors that we have on the page right right. Now we have I think three or four we have three that. Are there and ready to you know mentor, folks who are interested in starting a business in Haverhill but as we, start to have more demand in that I think would be interesting, to expand. That very, valuable resource, on the website. Excellent. Interesting. I was gonna ask a little bit around the mentors, and your approach, to you know attracting, them and you know what's, in it not, so much what's in it for them to participate but, you know what, how do you kind of create that connection, within, the business for, them to participate or just to start thinking about the ideas, do you mean this is totally going offline, normal. Digital strategy, but. That's the nature of what you need to do you need to get your processes, right first I mean how, do you approach that and where where are your thoughts on see where you see that going, yeah. So the the job, that I had while being a city councilor, was. I was a senior marketing manager, for an organization, called entrepreneurship.
Hall And. What, II for all is it's an organization, that empowers entrepreneurs. Of all backgrounds and what we found is that you, know we we, empower them by classes. By, small grant money but. The real meat of it is the mentorship right, and, so each of the entrepreneurs, that went through that program would, get three mentors and so, those three mentors would guide the. Entrepreneurs. Through. Launching, their business not only for the first year but really stay with them for life really, and. You, know over the course of the last four, and a half years, efore all has created, 431. Jobs through, the, entrepreneurs, that came to our program right and so learning, from that experience and. Understanding. How important and powerful mentorship. Is, we. Decided. To at. Least list some of the folks who are willing, to step up and say hey I'm going to give an hour to or maybe, even more depending, on how powerful the business is and how impactful, I can be to the business and. So we tapped into our personal networks, and just asked our would you be willing to meet with the dividuals, that might. Seek your mentorship and. But. I think I think that's one of things we'll have to think about before is how do we scale that yeah and I think what's. Great about the mentorship program is, that it it. Really communicates, the strength of operating and the small community I don't have to give these photos these, were all people who are really passionate about their businesses, but also passionate, about small business in general I mean you have to be if you're a small business operator or else you really, most like seeds so I remember, sitting there and I'm talking about my. Business. Mentor Paul and I, mean I eat at his restaurant probably once a week and so I'm sitting there and I was like hey Paul I mean this, is a young guy who, dropped, out of culinary school because he, had the, RIT and the the goat the go-get-'em, attitude sit. Start his own business he was ready to do it and, he did it and, I was like, how. Would you feel about like helping other small businesses, cuz this guy's are wealth of knowledge I mean just to share your experience, and and, you know be a backboard, for new. Companies which, even. Those like that sounds great I would love to do that, and, so really. This stuff was just giving a platform, to. People who were, looking for a way to give back and just didn't know how to so. It was really a easy, thing to do and. I agree I think 3 is a good start but I would love to see that number grow to 6 and. Then maybe get them together and do some, sort of speaking of that or you. Know a small business how to kind. Of thing I think there's a lot of room for growth there I can. See that at the moment youth is obviously, someone in the background saying hey we need you guys to wrap up soon and that's cool you've been incredibly, generous with your time I'd. Actually really love an opportunity to, go into a bit more detail maybe another six months or so down the track and see where you've taken things, from there that. Would be really great I guess, Andy the one thing I just want to ask you coming, towards the end making the transition from, from. City government into. State, government, where. Do you see the opportunities going at the at the state government level with, what you've learned and developed at the city level. George. I think you know a, lot. Of the same principles apply right, I mean the state government website recently. The. The front door of the state government website recently was, revamped and. It looks great but when you click on a lot of those links they go off to pretty.
Old Websites and. So I think you, know especially being in Massachusetts. Right we're talking about an innovation state. We. Have sort of a responsibility. To live up to that reputation. But. Also to make you know our websites more accessible whether, it's for the business community or disabilities. Community those, are all things that you know we should be prioritizing, there. Obviously. It's a little bit less. Than that on the city side right so, there's there's sort of more bureaucracy. That I have to go through and I can't just go ahead and build a state website. Right no, fellas, not for $10 a month right. But. There are still you know opportunities, whether it's you know building a website that better. Highlights, what grant opportunities, are available for businesses, right in the state of Massachusetts, so you're not sifting, through an Excel spreadsheet and instead you're looking at you know a map of the state that highlights what you know opportunities, are based off of you, know region, or by you. Know industry, area or by, you. Know stage. Cojones. Just recently relaunched, one of the their. Business grant sites so it's probably worth having a look at exactly. There you go there's. A wonderful thing about America you've got 50 states and goodness knows how many city city, governments so you can all kind of learn from each other pretty quickly, yeah. I mean and there's a I'm, sure you know there's a lot of examples of, great. City governments and there's a lot of examples of. Not. So great got from the other sites so yeah, there's a wealth of options to kind. Of sit there, no. Worries look oh thank you very much and wrap things up now I know you need to go to your next meeting gentlemen. Andy. Vargas Nate Robertson thank you so much for your time today and I'd love to have you back at a later date to find out how things have gone in the future. Yeah. Gavin thank you for your, passion around this and I love it and talking, to you thanks. For listening to government, to business for show, notes and how Gavin can help your department, or agency, visit. Government. To business comm. You.