Ann Arbor SPARK: A case study on an Economic Development Organization's Job Board


“This is all about attracting companies and, more importantly jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Ann Arbor SPARK is Ann Arbor’s engine for economic development, and is dedicated to the economic prosperity of the greater Ann Arbor region. It uses its skills and knowledge to attract, develop, strengthen, and invest in driving industries to help the region thrive. Most of all, it is committed to job growth.

Phil Santer is the Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff for the CEO. He is part of the Business Development Team at Ann Arbor Spark and has been with the organization for just over five years. He has been doing economic development in Michigan for over a decade. Prior to joining SPARK, he worked for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Phil Santer, SVP SPARK
Phil Santer, SVP SPARK

SPARK supports a broad range of companies: from small entrepreneurial companies to more mature organizations. Across these companies, SPARK focuses on attracting knowledge workers. Asked about the role of SPARK, Phil said, “This is all about attracting companies and, more importantly jobs, jobs, jobs.”

SPARK’s website had a legacy job board that was built internally years ago after the departure of Pfizer from the Ann Arbor market. At that time, there was a glut of talent looking for positions. While the job board functioned well, it became clear that it was no longer up-to-date enough to meet the needs of the three major constituents that an economic development organization supports. Those constituents are the EDO itself, the client companies in the region, and area job seekers. SPARK knew that the usability and effectiveness of the job board reflected on their organization. When trying to help local companies recruit and retain knowledge workers, having an easy to use, up to date job board is critical.

The Challenge

“It was a big decision to go from a legacy system that we had owned to be able to partner with a third-party, a vendor to be able to outsource this work.”

Asked about SPARK’s needs for a new system, Phil said, “We wanted to find something that met the needs of all three constituents. First, we needed a job board that would appeal to knowledge workers—something modern and easy to use. We also needed to have analytics to show our funders and our corporate customers that we were adding value to the community.

“To attract the right workers, we needed the job board to allow us to curate which jobs appeared so we could focus on the right companies and the right jobs. We didn’t want a generic job board that allowed any company to post any job. We also needed a job board with options to prominently feature the SPARK brand, and on the backend, we needed the user experience for our staff to be simple, but powerful.

“Second, our local companies, from very early stage companies to much more mature companies, wanted to have a range of functionality that served their broad needs. For instance, while a more mature company may already have an Applicant Tracking System, the early stage ones did not. So, we needed something that kept these diverse needs in mind.

“And third, the job applicants wanted superior job filtering capabilities to help them hone in on precisely what they were looking for. We even wanted something that would understand their needs and recommend jobs to them. Think Pandora for job search.

“Overall, we knew finding all of this functionality was not going to be easy.”
A major part of SPARK’s decision to move to a new system was the lack of functionality and the usability of the legacy site. Phil said, “There were some companies that were opting out of using the job portal altogether because if felt clunky and certainly not up to the level that a technology company was used to. Instead, they were posting on True Job because it had the focus, and they were a clear constituency for that. I wanted to make sure that we were capturing the companies that had selected away.” He continued, “It was a big decision to go from a legacy system that we had owned to be able to partner with a third-party, a vendor to be able to outsource this work.”

Choosing a Solution

“It became clear to us that TrueJob ... provided precisely what an EDO needs."

During their search for a new system, SPARK became aware of TrueJob, which happened to be a local company in Ann Arbor. TrueJob offered precisely the functionality that SPARK was looking for to meet the needs of the three constituents. It focused its product on organizations like EDO’s, had a modern look and feel, and a higher quality user experience overall.

Phil said, “We developed a cross-functional team to evaluate alternatives and make a selection. The team included representatives from business development, marketing and even the CEO’s office. We wanted to make sure that we had proper buy-in across the organization. The person who would administer the site for us was intimately familiar with our culture and understood our overall strategy so we wanted that person to be able to easily administer the system without extensive software skills or training.”

While TrueJob was a local company, the selection was made on the capabilities of the company rather that its geography. “It became clear to us that TrueJob was the right product for our needs,” Phil said. “They provided precisely what an EDO needs, even to the point of offering documentation and training videos for us and our corporate customers to ensure success across the diverse needs of these customers. We even had focus groups, where local organizations came in and helped tell us what they thought they needed and that helped us with the selection.”

Implementation and Results

“TrueJob worked directly with our team, handled our transition, trained our people and quickly answered any questions we had. It was about as easy as it could be...”

The implementation of TrueJob went smoothly and was handled expeditiously. The transition from the legacy job site to the new one was seamless. “TrueJob worked directly with our team, handled our transition, trained our people and quickly answered any questions we had. It was about as easy as it could be,” Phil said.

SPARK also had an impressive promotional plan for the new job site. The new job board was announced at SPARK’s annual meeting, which had extensive press coverage. SPARK also made sure that all its corporate customers were aware of the site and had access to the proper training materials to help them use it most effectively.

The benefits and results have been impressive. Most notably, SPARK has already seen greater participation from employers on its job site, and they now have better analytics to show how they are helping the local community. With increased interest in the site, local companies have seen more applicants applying for jobs, and job seekers are utilizing the advanced filtering and search capabilities to help them find the right job quicker and easier.

The quantitative results are also impressive. Even early on, SPARK has seen a 42% increase in application clicks, a 68% increase in conversions (the percentage of visitors that choose to apply to a job they are viewing). SPARK is also now able to see the precise number of applications submitted through the site (this number was unknown in the legacy system).


“A good job board is a critical part of the talent management aspect of EDO’s.”

Asked about the importance of SPARK’s job board, Phil said, “Many EDO’s don’t even offer a job board, but they should. A principle goal of an EDO is to help their local companies find the right talent and help people who are looking for opportunities find those companies. “A good job board is a critical part of the talent management aspect of EDO’s,” Phil said.

“Economic Development is about helping to create jobs. When EDO’s look to either add a job site or replace their existing job site, they should not try to internally duplicate what is already available. EDO’s are there to provide economic development, not build their own technology.”

Any EDO that is considering a job board needs to consider 8 critical criteria that will determine the success of their job site. These are:

  1. A high-quality user experience for both their corporate and job seeker customers
  2. The ability to curate the selection of jobs that appear on the job site
  3. Analytics that definitively show what they have accomplished with the job site
  4. Better filtering and matching for applicants and companies to make the process of job search easier and more effective
  5. Automatic scraping of public job sites to increase the pool of available jobs and simplify the signup process for employers
  6. Documentation and training videos to help internal staff and customers take advantage of the site and maximize participation
  7. Capabilities for smaller companies that may need extra support like a built-in Applicant Tracking System
  8. Branding for the EDO

If EDO’s keep the needs of their three main constituents in mind, they will be successful.

Eight critical features of a job board for Economic Development Organizations


Every Economic Development Organizations (EDO) is unique, but they do have something in common — they need to connect employers with job seekers. And for this, they need a job board tailored to the needs of their stakeholders.

EDOs have three stakeholders:

  • The EDO itself,
  • The region's companies, and
  • The region's work force.

Each of these stakeholders have certain criteria that need to be considered when implementing a new job board.

From these criteria, knowledge of the job market, and experience working directly with EDOs, TrueJob has gathered a list of eight critical features a job board must have to fulfill these requirements.

The eight requirements for a job board

  1. Excellent user experience
  2. Curation of job postings
  3. Powerful analytics
  4. Accurate filtering and matching
  5. Content automation
  6. Built-in Applicant Tracking System (ATS)
  7. Supporting assets
  8. Easy Branding

1. Excellent user experience

Imagine an employer trying to post a job for a web developer on a job website that looks terrible - they're going to laugh! It’s also going to blow your credibility, both with the employer and the job seeker.

People want a high quality experience when they use your job portal. You need a job portal that meets today’s modern standards, and makes it as easy as possible for job seekers to search for jobs, and employers to sign up and post jobs.

2. Job board curation

Economic Development Organizations can use their mission to help them determine which companies can post jobs on their job boards, and which jobs may be appropriate for the job board.

To have a great job board, you as an EDO need a permission-based job approval system that allows administrators to approve:

  • The companies that can post to your job portal
  • The job postings that those companies post

Without this, your job board won’t feel customized to the unique needs of your community.

3. Powerful analytics

Both Economic Development Organizations and employers would like analytics to help better understand the value of their job board.

A job board needs to keep track of not only how many times a job posting has been viewed, and for how long, but also how many times an “apply” button was clicked, how many applications are submitted, and how the quantity of job postings has changed over time.

This is a critical “killer” feature:

  • EDOs can use these analytics and more to see how they are
    helping to improve community job growth and building the amount of jobs posted and applied to on their portal. They can then report these analytics to their funders to demonstrate the value they are providing.
  • For employers, these analytics can help them improve the quality of candidates that end up applying to a job posting, increasing the quality of hires.

4. Accurate filtering and matching

A job board that is hard to search for jobs on is frustrating for a job seeker, and leads to less job applications for the employer.

The ideal job portal should offer as much power as possible to allow both sides to filter and improve the match between the job seeker and the employer, in a simple and user friendly experience.

Ideally the job board can even suggest jobs to the job seeker based on their individual requirements. It should also help employers better understand what job seekers like and dislike about the job postings available, so job seekers are more likely to filter and match for their posting.

5. Content automation

One of the biggest challenges for any website is content. Job boards are no different—an empty job board isn't useful to anyone! Relevant and local job listings are already out there and published, they just need to find a way to your new job board.

There’s a right and wrong way to do this – “backfilling” (as it is sometimes referred to by other job boards) can pull low quality job postings from bulk job websites like Indeed or Monster, leading to a bad first experience for job seekers.

You need a job board that can pull information right from local employers’ websites, or let them import jobs directly. This makes sure not only your job board is filled with job postings, but high quality job postings.

6. Built-in Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

Economic Development Organizations don’t exist only to support large companies - they also help to build smaller companies as well.

Smaller employers want the ability to track applicants, interview applicants, and review applicants, but do not have the funding for or knowledge of HR applications.

It is essential for the EDO to provide basic level Applicant Tracking System (ATS) capabilities to these smaller companies that lack resources. This will provide them a better chance to hire great candidates and grow their small business into a larger one.

7. Supporting assets

Supporting assets are any manuals, documentation, guides, videos, or technical support that are part of a product.

As an Economic Development Organization, you want to spend as much time as you can supporting your community, not troubleshooting simple problems.

You need a job portal that comes with documentation and videos to help users solve their problems without having to resort to contacting the EDO for technical support.

8. Easy branding

Every organization has invested heavily in their brand - it’s their identity! As an Economic Development Organization, it is essential to keep all properties directly associated with the organization under the same brand umbrella. This means color, fonts, and design style.

For a job board to be successful, it needs to take these branding concerns into account. Not only should the job board be theme-able with your colors, fonts, and more, but it should also be embeddable so the job board looks like your website because it is in your website!


A job board that has the 8 critical features we’ve listed will benefit the EDO as well as the employers and job seekers in your region. These benefits include:

  • More participation and interaction from your local employers
  • Better control over your website content and brand image
  • Additional sponsorships and funding by using the job board to demonstrate your value to the community
  • A larger pool of applicants that are a better match
  • Applicant tracking tools to save smaller employers time and money
  • Analytics to learn how to improve the hiring process and attract the best candidates
Job Seekers
  • Access to a high quality, curated selection of local job opportunities.
  • Filtering and matching tools to stay up to date on the latest opportunities and

TrueJob has all of these specific and critical criteria

Economic Development Organizations are unique institutions that must satisfy not only their own needs, but the needs of the employers and job seekers in their region.

Existing job sites and basic job portals can’t help these organizations. Specific and critical functionality is required in order for these organizations to demonstrate their value and help their constituents be successful.

TrueJob and Economic Development Organizations - a 3 minute overview

Note: this is a review of our 3 minute overview video on YouTube. If you wish to watch the video instead, please check it out here

TrueJob triangle

With TrueJob, we help your Economic Development Organization connect the job seekers and employers in your community together. We do that with a job board we built specifically for Economic Development Organizations that allows them to interact with each other more easily than any other job board around.This helps you achieve your mission as an Economic Development Organization of growing your community, and is a great way for you to start attracting more sponsorship and funding.

There's no software for you to install and maintain, and we can integrate TrueJob with any website. And it can be done in seconds, with little to no administrative effort. Let me show you how it works:

Setup and install


Above we have an example economic development website which doesn't have a job board yet. We'll assume that it's built on top of WordPress, but again this process will be similar no matter what your website set up. To build out your job board it's as simple as:


  1. Making a new jobs page
  2. Pasting our snippet of TrueJob code into that page, and
  3. Publishing it on your website.

Now your site will have a new area called "jobs" and you'll have an
advanced job portal ready to go:



For jobseekers, they'll be able to "like" or "dislike" job postings, similar to Pandora, to improve jobs that fit them from your community. They can also quickly navigate from job to job posting, and search and filter for the things that they want to see.

When they're ready to apply to a job posting, a job seeker can apply on the local company's website, or can receive applicants through TrueJob's applicant tracking system, allowing your smaller companies an easy way to track applicants when they might not have an HR budget.

Portal Administration

As the EDO job portal administrator you can curate your job portal by approving which employers get to post jobs, and which jobs from those companies get posted:


You'll also get to see powerful analytics as to how your job portal is
doing, so you can show your impact on the community to your benefactors, and get
more sponsorship and funding:


Expected Results

With TrueJob you can expect better job seeker participation on your site than any job board out there. You'll also see more jobs posted to your site from local companies, and more local companies joining your job board.

Click here to see our case study with Ann Arbor SPARK, a Michigan Economic Development Organization, where by adding a job portal they ended up DOUBLING the traffic to their website.


For pricing, TrueJob is based on the size of your community, but comes with two factors:

  1. An initialization fee
  2. A monthly fee

The initialization fee covers things like:

  • Working with your team
  • Theming your job board to your site and
  • Helping you build a promotional plan.

The monthly fee:

  • Allows us to keep TrueJob up-to-date and maintained
  • Gives you the latest features as we create them, and
  • Technical support when you need it.

To give you an estimate, small communities can expect to pay roughly $425/month for TrueJob, and larger communities $925/month. But we know each community is different, so reach out to us for pricing that fits your needs as a community.


This is just the beginning of what we can do.Read more at, and contact us for more information.

What is a Job Board and How Can it Improve Your EDO, University, or Trade Association



Unlike a job search engine that looks at job postings throughout the Web, a job board is typically more focused on a particular type of job, a certain location, or an industry.

These are some key features of a job board:

  • Jobs specific to a location, industry, etc.
  • Application process to allow posting on the job board
  • Little to no duplicate or unrelated job postings

The audience for job boards differs depending on the purpose of the job board, but can include:

  • Those in a specific job market or industry
  • Job seekers looking for work in a specific area
  • Employers looking for talent close to their location
  • Employers looking for job seekers with experience in their industry
Economic Development Organization (EDO)

Job boards are the perfect tool for EDOs who are looking to promote jobs focused on the area they serve. A job board is a resource that will support the EDO’s many stakeholders. The advanced analytics available with an on-site job board can prove your EDO’s worth and lead to more sponsorships and funding. An on-site job board can also increase website traffic and encourage economic growth in your region. To see how a job board can work for your EDO, read about how Ann Arbor SPARK almost doubled their application clicks and more than doubled their conversions after implementing an onsite job board.

Schools and Universities

Schools and Universities have specific target audiences and stakeholders to keep in mind. Their goal is typically to help students and alumni find jobs locally and fill open positions within the university and surrounding community. By utilizing a job board instead of a job search engine, schools can create a targeted list of employer and job seeker opportunities for their stakeholders. This will increase website traffic and aid the university in reaching their employment goals.

Trade Associations

Trade associations can also benefit from utilizing a job board to address stakeholder needs. The basic function of a trade association is to create a network of people in a similar industry and to grow their industry. A job board can help accomplish those goals by allowing industry employers to post jobs in a place dedicated to the industry, while also aiding job seekers looking for specific positions within the industry. An on-site job board can even have the potential to increase your trade association’s revenue by optionally charging employers to post jobs.

For more information on the essential functions of a job board, discover the Eight Requirements of a Job Board. For more information about implementing your own EDO, University or Trade Association job board, request a demo.

Market & Drive Traffic to your EDO Website

As an Economic Development Organization (EDO), you sometimes have limited resources to work with to market your organization and bring in benefactors and sponsors. In this post, we'll give you a few ways to utilize low and no cost tools you probably already have to drive traffic to your website, and stretch your marketing budget.

Marketing Methods

Marketing Strategies have changed drastically in the last decade and they continue to move toward an inbound (content marketing, social media, etc.) versus outbound (advertisements, cold calling, email campaigns, etc.) marketing strategy. With the rise of the World Wide Web, it has become increasingly easy for consumers to find the information and products they want without the help of outbound marketing strategies. So, instead of persuading consumers to purchase their goods, marketers are producing content relevant to their target audience; getting the consumers to come to them.

Inbound marketing will generate the most bang for your buck according to the 2017 State of Inbound Survey by HubSpot. Organizations surveyed were almost four times more likely to see a return on investment using inbound marketing than outbound marketing. So, how can your EDO utilize inbound marketing strategies with your current resources to make the most out of your marketing budget?

Marketing Tools

By Utilizing your website, social media, and search engine optimization, you can drive traffic to your economic development organization and develop the economy in your area.
Dedicate a page or pages to helping entrepreneurs, employers, and job seekers learn more about your community
Provide resources for entrepreneurs, businesses, and job seekers
Promote your pages and information on social media channels

Supporting Entrepreneurs

Your website can aid entrepreneurs by being a resource for all types of new businesses. The best way to decide what types of resources entrepreneurs need is to create an entrepreneur persona and list their challenges, questions, and interests, then write about them. For example, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has several resources for startups including an entrepreneurial opportunity that includes the following:

  • Funding opportunities
  • Manufacturing assistance
  • SmartZone network
  • Technical Education Centers
  • Business Connect

By placing these resources on a dedicated page you will increase visitors to your website and persuade new businesses to start in your area! If you’re interested in learning more about EDO entrepreneur programs check out Fitting Small Businesses and Startups into your Entrepreneur Development Program.

Supporting Existing Businesses

You want to see your local businesses succeed, so, provide them with materials and information that can help them on your website. Another example from the MEDC is their ‘Grow’ page which includes the following:

  • Finding Talent
  • Accessing Capital
  • The Pure Michigan Business Connect
  • Incentives and Taxes
  • Core Industries
  • International Trade Service

Once you have pertinent information for existing businesses to help them grow, promote the page as a one-stop shop for growing their business on social media. This will build trust and position you as a resource for all things business support.

Supporting Job Seekers

Supporting job seekers with information helpful for them will also develop your region. Take a look at Ann Arbor SPARKs resources for job seekers:

  • Talent Blog
  • eNewsletter
  • Onsite Job Board
  • Jobseeker Profile and Resume

These offerings will support the area businesses by sourcing great talent to fill their open positions as well as your website traffic. Job seeker tools are essential to growing your region, as they allow local companies to find candidates, people to move to your region, and generate more impact for your organization. A job board, for example, can have a huge impact: after implementing a job board on Ann Arbor SPARK, an economic development organization in Michigan, traffic to their site nearly doubled!

If your region is thinking of implementing a job board, click here for a demo or read about the Eight Requirements of a Job Board we identified from working with Economic Development Organizations like yourself.