Student Fellowship

Rethinking Engagement to Spur Entrepreneurship

Project Area:

Economic Recovery


Elyria, OH

Reporting to:

Assistant Safety Service Director

The Challenge

Elyria’s building department is undergoing a digital transformation as part of Mayor Whitfield’s vision for improving service delivery and supporting entrepreneurship. Once an affluent manufacturing and entrepreneurial community with many patents to its name, the City of Elyria has since been greatly impacted by the loss of major employers with high-wage jobs common to Midwest communities. Under Mayor Whitfield’s leadership, the city is focused on creating inclusive opportunities to encourage entrepreneurship and employment in growth industries. Priorities include the adaptive reuse of Midway Mall, Downtown redevelopment, and the commercial development of high-growth residential neighborhoods.

In an effort to improve the building department’s data management strategy and develop key performance indicators for service delivery efficiency, the city will begin to collect data on entrepreneurs’ profiles, including by race and gender, to understand knowledge and funding gap disparities that arise among underrepresented groups. A more in-depth analysis of user experience and the new data system is needed to help the building department improve its outreach to entrepreneurs and ensure that all prospective business owners and residents have a satisfactory experience with the department. A successful project would leave the city with a deeper understanding of the user personas that engage with Elyria’s building department and which groups (i.e. entrepreneurs, developers, residents) are being left behind and require additional interactions to have a fulfilling experience.

What You’ll Do

The fellow will leverage the department’s new data tracking system and coordinate with key stakeholders, including the city’s small business center that provides support to budding entrepreneurs. The fellow would subsequently provide recommendations based on their findings. This is a unique opportunity to work closely with the building department’s senior leadership, mayor, and the business community to develop a key set of product and customer management recommendations that will help businesses get the services they need, and for the city to understand where it should invest to improve access and efficiency of service delivery.

The fellow will be expected to:

  1. Analyze the data collected from the department’s data-tracking system. The fellow will be able to answer the following questions: (a) What are the current user personas of those who visit the building department’s website? (b) Who isn’t currently accessing online services? (c) What barriers might these users face?
  2. Engage and interview entrepreneurs, developers, and residents, as well as community partners, including Lorain County Urban League, Lorain County Community College, Small Business Development Center, and the YWCA to develop an assessment of user needs.
  3. Collaborate with the city’s IT department, procurement team, and administrators to understand the city’s current digital infrastructure.
  4. Lead a design-thinking workshop for building department staff to surface innovative ideas on what digital and customer service improvements can be made.

What You’ll Bring

  • Experience in and passion for process improvement, small business growth, and equity
  • Experience in organizational transformation
  • Data collection (including quantitative and qualitative data) and policy analysis skills
  • Design-thinking and human-centered design skills
  • Communication skills
  • Product and user research experience desired
  • GIS and coding experience beneficial, but not necessary
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