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City embraces technology boom
by Sami Edge - Special to the Tribune
Jul 22, 2013 | 4904 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo -- The City of Sparks has seen slow success due to its technological upgrades to its website, mobile app and widget.
Tribune photo -- The City of Sparks has seen slow success due to its technological upgrades to its website, mobile app and widget.
Angela Vallejo has worked at Sunset Cove Cafe and Winehouse in the Sparks Marina shopping center for the last four and a half years. As a manager and head waitress, Vallejo is at the restaurant nearly every day. Almost as often, she says, she greets new patrons sent their way by means of technology — increased traffic that has become common for the restaurant in the last year since it was added to the City of Sparks’ digital business registry intended to promote local businesses.

“I’ve gotten some feedback from it, and people often tell us that’s how they found us,” Vallejo says of the widget business registry. “We do a lot of gluten free and vegetarian options and a lot of people, especially from out of town and just visiting the area, have told us that the Sparks widget was how they found out about us.”

According to City of Sparks Community Relations Manager Adam Mayberry, such promotion was the name of the game when the city initiated a technological overhaul, starting about two years ago. Included in the update were a new and improved website design, the region’s first smart phone application, and a “widget,” organizational application of local businesses, available on both.

Launched two years ago, the City of Sparks website redesign was intended to increase website traffic by creating a fun, interactive and user-friendly interface. The website homepage allows both locals and visitors quick access to upcoming event information, regional news, weather updates and social media links, and upon further search, subcategories allow access to everything from submitting citizen requests to planning a trip to the region. In essence, it’s a one-stop-shop for Sparks needs.

In early 2012, Sparks further increased its digital presence by becoming the first local government to introduce an official city app. As of July 31, “Sparks, NV” had been downloaded on digital devices over 2,500 times. As technology evolves, Mayberry believes that keeping up is elemental to the city’s success.

“Clearly more and more people of all ages and backgrounds are using mobile devices to get their information. This is just another tool in our toolbox that we can use to promote what’s happening in our city,” he said.

The digital widget included on both the website homepage and the app allows local businesses to categorize themselves on an interactive registry of regional attractions. Not only does it provide free publicity for the business, Mayberry says, but it’s also a key tool in providing visitors with information about what the area has to offer.

“There are a lot of things happening in this city, and we need our businesses to help us use the widget to promote themselves and the area,” he said. “There are a lot of hidden gems in Sparks.”

Businesses like Sunset Cove provide testament to the potential of Spark’s technological innovation. However, not all businesses have seen the same degree of promotional success.

Wendy Keller, owner of Paper Daisies scrapbooking supply store says that new clients she sees in the store have only ever attributed their visit to word of mouth or random happenstance. However, after adding the business to the widget, only within the last several months, she remains optimistic about the possibility of increased visitation and widget-driven sales in the future.

“Honestly, I have to say no,” Keller said when asked if widget subscription has driven visitation or sales success. “If I see new customers who haven’t been in before, I always ask and it doesn’t seem like we have … but it can’t hurt to try.”

Mayberry says that in the long run, the hope is that technological updates and an increased number of tools available to promote Sparks as an events destination will translate to increased area tourism, and a resulting increase in the fiscal stability of the Rail City region.

“Information over the long run can translate to added revenue … particularly when the city has been promoting itself more and more throughout the region as the “events capital of the Northwest,” Mayberry said. “Having these tools to help us get our information out there is very important.”

Gary Ferrick, a 71-year Sparks resident, believes that this change has already begun. A self-proclaimed technological “dinosaur,” he doesn’t pretend to have kept up with the City’s increased presence on a digital domain, however from what he can see in the physical world, the city he knows and loves has really harnessed the potential for development through its enthusiasm for events.

“I think Sparks does a momentous job of events. They’ve got the farmers markets, the Rib Cook Off … I think that Sparks is better off financially that Reno because of it,” Ferrick said.

Both Mayberry and Ferrick believe that positive signs of economic growth are emerging. Prime indications, Mayberry says, include additional events, more use of regional parks such as the Golden Eagle Regional Park and development projects like the reopening of the former Silver Club as Bourbon Street Casino, the IMAX theater to be instituted at Legends and a coming Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant.

Although hesitant to attribute recent growth solely to the success of the “It’s Happening Here” campaign lead by the city Brand Leadership Team, technology, or a statewide trend of economic recovery, Mayberry says one thing is for sure: Sparks is finding its footing.

“We’re not out of the woods yet. The real message as to where Sparks stands in the economic recovery is that we’re stabilized,” Mayberry said. “We’re seeing things come back to life. Slowly, but surely.”

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