(UPDATE: City of Dayton responds: In a comment on a newly developed Facebook page about the controversy, the City of Dayton Office of Economic  Development responds in a comment )

In September 2010,  the City of Fort Wayne, Indiana hired a PR firm from Chicago, paying them $72000 to teach city employees about Social Media. The local, and very active Social Media community there was outraged. With all of the local talent, why spend taxpayer money out of town? The city said they needed the specialized talents of Carolyn Grisko & Associates, who had worked with other city governments. Fair enough. Still, was there really no individual or company who was up to the task (and might have taken a shade less than $72000?).  I would at least, think so.

Apparently this is widespread. The Dayton Daily News reported on Friday,  April 20, that the  City of Dayton Office of Economic Development had contracted Atlas Advertising, LLC from Denver to create an economic development website that promotes the city to businesses.  Atlas beat 15 other bids, including 5 local companies.

What’s wrong with this picture? Dayton has been hit especially hard by the recession, the closure of auto and auto-related plants, moves of companies that were once local institutions like NCR, which moved to Atlanta; and a talent exodus as people move to find other opportunities.  Dayton is undergoing a rebirth as more technical companies move in, and the city would like to attract more companies and talent.  That’s what the Office of Economic Development is all about.

What does it say about a city when businesses who are thinking about locating there don’t have enough confidence in their local companies to spend taxpayer money with them? Are the needs so specialized that only this Denver company can provide them? Yes, there is a difference between a one-person shop operating in a basement and a large company that can provide sophisticated back-end and database services, but there are several companies in Dayton that can do that.  Did the Economic Development commission even bother asking the members of New Media Dayton for recommendations?

The Cities of Fort Wayne, Dayton, Indianapolis, Knoxville or even Denver have every right to do business with whoever they want. Likewise, firms, including in Dayton,  can and do solicit business from around the country and world.  Still, if you’re the taxpayer entity that wants to tell the world how great your city is as a place to locate your business, why give your local providers a black eye?

When a city preaches about shopping local, but doesn’t do that when it buys city services, it rings a little hollow.

Your thoughts are welcome!