By Robert Kalesse
Special to Delaware Business Times
Attach the name “Google” to any award, and heads are sure to turn. So it’s no surprise that business owners and residents of Newark are proud their home has received the Google eCity Award for the second consecutive year.
The multinational technology company used a specific set of metrics and methodology to choose one city for each of the 50 states. Those selected, according to a Google Economic Impact report, featured the strongest online business community, and thus, were given the designation at the end of 2015.
Newark Mayor Polly Sierer is among many city officials beaming over recognition from the California-based company specializing in Internet-related services and products. Sierer, who was elected to office in November 2013, has been at the helm for both eCity designations.
“It’s wonderful to have this type of recognition on a national level,” said Sierer. “We’re proud of the recognition, and we hope that it will be another component raising our profile as a tech-savvy, vibrant hub of innovative businesses.”
In selecting an eCity representative from each state, which includes various large metropolitan areas like Boston and Denver, as well as smaller neighboring towns like Ocean City, Md., and Fairfield, N.J., Google used a set of metrics and methodology.
First, an eCity shortlist was compiled, after which 51 small-and-medium businesses were selected at random from each city. A series of yes/no questions regarding online presence and eCommerce generated a business score for each city.
In their announcement of Newark as an eCity, Google paid particular attention to the fact that the Delaware Technology Park, which resides within city limits. The description of Newark, which can be found at google.com/economicimpact/ecities, recognized that the U.S. Council on Competitiveness recognized the technology park as a “model research park for its regional economic development initiatives across the U.S. and Mexico.”
Delaware Technology Park, a 501c nonprofit that has helped build more than 100 companies from scratch, primarily in areas like life sciences and IT, employs more than 1,000 researchers and scientists. DTP President Mike Bowman said he and his staff are proud of the mention in Google’s report, but that the award is a shared accomplishment.
“We’re flattered, obviously, but they could have said something about STAR Campus, or SevOne, or a lot of things about Newark,” Bowman said, recognizing the University of Delaware’s science, technology and advanced research site, as well as Newark’s scalable network monitoring platform, respectively.
Up on Main Street, many businesses have seen the power of eCommerce and engaging with their clientele online. Restaurants, bars, apparel shops and even physical fitness centers have come to understand the benefit of reaching out to customers in the digital age.
Nic DeCaire, president and founder of Fusion Fitness Center, has been open for business for nearly 10 years, and has watched Main Street grow in leaps and bounds. He says staying ahead of the digital curve, or at least riding it, is a big part of his business.
“There is a lot of money in town right now, what with major chains and retailers moving to Main Street, as well as the reconstruction of the Newark Shopping Center,” DeCaire said. “And with that comes more customers you can engage. We use Facebook and Twitter a lot and make sure to reach out to our audience to let them know what we’re doing, whether it’s a promotion at the gym or an event or charity we might be supporting.”
While Mayor Sierer specifically mentioned SevOne and Wooden Wheels, the long-tenured bike shop at the corner of Chapel and Main streets, mentioned in Google’s eCity report, DeCaire looks to restaurants like Home Grown Café and Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen as two examples of Main Street businesses that really speak to their customers.
Lee Mikles, co-owner at Grain, which opened just last fall, said the recognition is good for Newark, and that it might act as a springboard to bring more companies to the city of more than 30,000 full-time residents. “It’s a major award, as they said in ‘A Christmas Story,’ and regardless of their methodology, it’s a positive for Newark.”
Mikles, who in 2003 started (and later sold) The Archer Group, a Wilmington-based digital agency, knows the power of engaging with customers online. His company helped develop and install the touchscreen system at Wawa markets, and now looks at his restaurant’s website as a mere placeholder.
“Obviously the physical restaurant is what we do, and the website is important, no doubt,” Mikles said. “But we also focus a lot of our efforts on getting three to five touches a day through Instagram, Facebook and other sites. Our communications strategy is as important outside the restaurant as it is inside these doors.”
When asked, Mikles answered yes to four of the five questions Google used to help select its list of eCities. The questions included whether or not said business was listed in an online directory, had its own website, had a social network presence, allowed eCommerce directly through its site, and if it had a blog.
“We don’t really have a blog, but, if one of our chefs or bartenders has something to share, we use our social media accounts to do the talking,” Mikels said. “It’s now a natural part of interaction, so we, as business owners, need to embrace it.”
Mayor Sierer said that Newark’s businesses, large and small, are very forward thinking, and lauded other Main Street restaurants and takeout spots for their contributions. “Many of our small restaurants embraced online ordering some time ago, and now are embracing apps,” Sierer said. “They’re also making use of delivery services, like Zoomer, rather than having their own delivery drivers, maximizing efficiency,” she said.