and allied professionals across North America five standard questions about
business retention and expansion
. Check in to
.Guru regularly to see what these industry leaders have to say about this essential element of
For over 20 years, Erik ran the highly successful BusinessFirst! Program for a Greater Dayton Region in the Dayton, Ohio metro area. This foundation of the regional initiative is built on BRE but, today, they are doing all mainstay economic, workforce and community development activities under this program and brand. Everything emanates from their interactions with the existing business customer. Erik has recently retired from this county post to head up localized efforts in Centerville.
"Providing value to existing business by connecting resources to them to stay globally competitive in the market. Ultimately, BR&E helps to reduce company departures and closures whether it’s the local community, region or state that preserves the tax base and to maintain strengthen the overall economy."
"Success is avoiding customer (business) departures/closures. Additionally successful BR&E is multi-faceted from providing a single point of contact for the company; developing new programs and policies through input of businesses that serve businesses; leveraging BR&E for business attraction and being able to respond to assist companies for when there is a manmade or natural disaster so they can reduce business interruptions."
"The biggest challenge of BR&E today is the rapid dynamics of the global marketplace and how it impacts local, regional, and state economies (e.g., vacant office buildings, workforce –retaining and attracting the workforce - remote vs. in office, supply-chain - lead times, inflation, cost reductions, etc.). All of these challenges are real for communities, because it all falls back to the need for them to provide the needed value to companies – many of which, but not all, are out of their control."
"Develop a cohesive, intentional strategic and then work plan that maximizes staff and resource partners. The plans include one-on-one company visits, roundtables and focus groups, business walks, utilizing social media, creating, or constantly refining the BR&E website, and constantly fine-tuning and improving the retention team. Implementing some or all these elements will help to maximize the impacts to your BR&E program and your community."
"Build your retention team and that all stakeholders are in alignment with your overall strategy. This will help build trust and focus in successfully achieving the goals of your BR&E program."
Matt runs the longstanding Business Resource Network program in the Canton, Ohio metro area that includes both Stark and Tuscarawas counties. This BRE program is truly unique in the nation because of its aggressive and intensive approach to customer service and satisfaction. Strategic BRE outreach results in comprehensive, multi-faceted customer service plans with shared implementation responsibilities by and between the business and economic development network of service providers. Nothing is left to chance.
"I always take the approach to BR&E as “economic gardening”, which can be defined as growing your industries from within- targeted support for companies that are already in your community to help them remain and grow in your community."
"Existing companies generate a substantial majority of the new jobs and capital investment in a community. Some estimate that 75% of a community’s job growth and capital investment come from existing businesses vs. attraction projects. Assisting existing business create/retain jobs in your community is a must!"
"Ensuring that you have enough time and resources to reach every targeted industry in your community is sometimes challenging. Building a strong coalition of local, state and federal partners will help with the bandwidth needed. It’s all about relationships!"
"A community’s best companies are your competitor’s best prospects. Understanding the challenges and opportunities they face and providing solutions to address those needs is imperative to keeping them in your community. A structured BR&E program also provides accountability with measurable results to provide to your community stakeholders, board of directors, etc."
"You have to have a strong CRM in place to capture the data around primary markets, supply chain, workforce, community resources, planned capital investment, etc. and be sure to analyze that data to address the challenges and opportunities your companies are facing. Be sure that you are an active listener during BR&E visits, and not just there to “sell” programs. This will help to understand the companies that are growing and those that are at-risk of closure and prioritize those that need our help the most. Building relationships and trust with business leaders and community partners in your region will help achieve success in the long run."
Jennifer Lench runs one of the most aggressive statewide BRE programs in the nation. Since its inception in 2018, the Pennsylvania Engage program has interacted with almost 16,000 businesses in the state. Outreach specialists use a lean BRE survey instrument that facilitates strategic conversation with private-sector decision makers across ten regions and 67 counties in the state. Since the pandemic, Engage professionals across the state have started utilizing one-to-many outreach tactics like focus groups and business walks.
"Business retention and expansion is connecting with businesses and establishing long-lasting relationships so that the business knows who to reach out to in good times and in challenging times."
"Success in business retention and expansion is having seasoned callers reach out to businesses whether it is a visit on site with a tour, hosting a business walk or engaging with the business during a roundtable discussion. Regular, proactive visits and communication is the key to success."
"Encouraging the callers to not always call on the “low-hanging” fruit but reach out to new businesses that may not know of the service providers in their area and across the state."
"The greatest opportunity is having great, experienced callers remain with the program and get better each year as they speak with new businesses, small and large across the Commonwealth."
"Make sure that the caller is comfortable having a one-on-one conversation with the C-level executive. Do not give the assignment of BR&E calls to the “new kid on the block.”"
Doug Parsons is the Director of the Fauquier County Department of Economic Development in Warrenton, Virginia. His organization is involved in many pillar economic development activities but Doug and his staff keep their focus on business retention and expansion. They use BRE as an instigator for recruitment, workforce development, and other core strategic initiatives. The Fauquier County Department of Economic Development is data-driven and focused on measurable outcomes and metrics.
"Forming an ongoing relationship of trust with a business whereby an economic development professional learns about all aspects of the company, identifies their challenges and opportunities, and then brings resources to the table to successfully address them. We aim to become the first person they think of when they have a problem with workforce, infrastructure, local planning issues or when they need contacts at state agencies. Additionally, we want them to reach out to us with plans to grow and expand."
"The metrics would be jobs saved/created and capital investment saved/created but it’s more than that. It’s having the owner/manager of the business say, “The Fauquier County Department of Economic Development significantly helped us to overcome our challenges (or take advantage of an opportunity)”. “They are our number one resource!” Being their “go to guy or gal” is the goal."
"Workforce is far and away the number one issue challenging businesses in Fauquier County and Virginia. Helping businesses recruit and retain talent is the most significant assistance we can provide. Other challenges include infrastructure extensions/upgrades for expansions and help with Planning & Zoning issues."
"Business Retention is also key for Business Attraction. I’ve said for years, the best marketing tool for business attraction is an existing business community that would say to the prospect, “Fauquier County takes care of its businesses and they’ve have helped us every time we’ve asked them.” For a prospect to speak to a business that’s been here for, say, 10 years, and have them say how business friendly we are, or how great the workforce is, carries way more weight than to hear it from us."
"Get out there and visit with as many of your companies as you can and get to know them and their issues. Have a system to track your communications and work with each one and STAY IN CONTACT throughout the year.
Nothing breed success like a happy existing business base. Nothing can give you a worse black eye than existing businesses that are unhappy with the support they receive from your economic development department or your local elected officials. Business Retention is the NUMBER ONE PRIORITY for an economic development department. Period."
Lance Randall managed the City of Seattle’s BRE program for many years and now heads up Oregon’s Black Business Association (BBA). BBA is facilitating a statewide BRE program across Oregon that is focused squarely on diversity, equity, and inclusion work with minority-owned firms. The goal of the program is to identify minority firms, help them enhance operations, and forge buyer-supplier networks within and beyond the state.
"My definition of business retention and expansion is providing a support system for businesses to keep them operating and growing in your community. I consider it the most important activity for an economic development practitioner."
"What constitutes success in business retention and expansion is having constant contact with businesses to establish relationships, being able to help businesses overcome challenges and take advantage of growth opportunities, and having the cooperation of partners, stakeholders, and elected officials to support businesses with good customer service and business friendly policies."
"The biggest challenge in business retention and expansion is identifying a company that is on the verge of collapse before it is too late. If we don’t reach a troubled business to help them overcome a challenge before they close their doors, the odds of them reopening are slim. Every business we lose to closer is a blow to the economy. It is very important to build relationships with businesses to gain their trust so that they will reach out for help rather than giving up."
"The greatest opportunity in business retention and expansion is new job creation. When we retain businesses and help them grow. the creation of new jobs is inevitable."
"The single piece of advice I would give to others about achieving success in business retention and expansion is to be accessible to businesses and respond quickly when they reach out to for help. In addition, it is important to listen to their concerns and take steps to help them overcome challenges. When we show our businesses that we value them, they will stay in our communities which keeps our economies strong."
Martin Karl Vanags
Martin (Marty) Vanags is a true economic development veteran. He's held key posts in communities like Bloomington-Normal, IL, Indianapolis IN, and Saratoga County, NY. He now helms MartinKarl Consulting. The common denominator of all of Marty's experience is a strong and consistent focus on business retention and expansion. We are happy to offer Marty's insight into this field.
"Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) as a program of activity conducted by economic development professionals and others is best defined by describing what it isn’t. BRE should not be defined as a “project” or “program” be the economic development professional. Rather is should be viewed much like a “campaign”. This campaign requires multiple buy-in and agreement from a wide variety of stakeholders, service providers and elected officials in order for it to be successful. BRE as campaign will result in great results and it will widen the collaborative opportunities for many organizations and groups who claim economic development as part of their mission. From workforce organizations, to community colleges, training schools, unions, community development organizations, all should be involved in the BRE campaign. Yes, BRE is an opportunity to visit businesses and get their opinion and develop insight into their activities, find and help those businesses overcome obstacles to being more successful, and create new relationships, and yes, it’s an opportunity to find trends among similar types of businesses and create data that can’t be found online or other common sources. Yes, it is an opportunity to provide greater trust and clarity into your organizational goals with the companies and business owners you are visiting which may result in a more successful funding for your organization."
"Success in any BRE program has some commonly thought of goals and success metrics such as jobs retained or new jobs added as a result of work done through the efforts of the BRE campaign. One must be careful to reconcile the goals of the organization or community’s goals as defined in an economic development master plan along with the commonly held metrics. However ultimate success is when the BRE program and campaign becomes a seamless part of the economic development “practice”. It is successful when multiple organization are calling companies and referring issues and problems to each other without regard to who gets credit. It is successful when the campaign results in a higher degree of trust among organizations within the community. Economic Development credit and success is collaborative and requires credit to spread among many organizations."
"In any community I have worked, the biggest challenge is to get local community organizations and service providers to trust one another, work within the system and develop a long-term approach to the system. Another challenge is to help other service providers that you have incorporated into the campaign and system to use it diligently and in a disciplined way. This requires great leadership and enthusiasm. A final challenge is build enough community awareness and acknowledgment by the business community that this is a “real” effort and that no one is trying to pry private information from them. Many visits I have been on started with a disbelief that someone was actually here to listen and not try to sell them something. This can be overcome with a strong marketing and awareness campaign."
"I have often remarked BRE is the foundation for economic development in any community or region. It is what every other program and activity should be built from. One cannot undertake a real and sustainable recruitment and attraction program if one does not first develop their BRE campaign. How can one ask a company to join the other companies and businesses in one’s region if they have no knowledge of the needs, desires, challenges and opportunities facing existing business? A community or region must have “asking rights” to invite a company to join the others in ones’ region or community. This only comes with a rich, deep and instinctive knowledge of one’s businesses, their trends, and the resultant culture this creates. This can only be done through a legitimate campaign of BRE. The results and payoff will be tenfold. A foundational and strong BRE campaign will result in:
- Stronger ties and relationships with the business community in your community beyond the nominal and requisite handshake and nod at the last Chamber reception. You become a confidant and problem solver that is seen with great esteem in the eyes of the businesses with which one has interacted.
- Stronger ties and relationships resulting from the new, expanded and increased relationships one has with the service providers and economic development collaboration partners in the community or region. The ability to assist those organizations and partners in reaching their service goals will give them more incentive to participate.
- More opportunities to “monetize” the relationship one has with those business that have assisted or even those that have not. Their recognition that your organization is leading a real effort to help local businesses grow and expand will be recognized through increased funding when the time comes.
- Valuable data and information that one cannot find in census sources, or commercial sources. The views, opinions and real-time data being provided by company and business owners to a BRE data gatherer cannot be found anywhere and can provide trending data for the region.
"Make business retention and expansion the foundation and driver of your economic development strategy. All efforts should emanate from your existing business customers."
Dale Wheeldon is a seasoned economic developer from British Columbia who wears many hats. He is the President/CEO of the British Columbia Economic Development Association (BCEDA). That organization has a large and active roster of community members and stakeholders. Dale also spends time on consulting work with resource limited communities throughout the province on business retention/expansion, marketing and much more. He routinely provides business retention and expansion training for the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and other membership organizations throughout North America. Dale is also an expert in resiliency—having worked across the globe in disaster recovery efforts with his business partner, Colleen Bond. Through BCEDA, he developed a COVID-19 response plan for his member communities throughout British Columbia.
"BRE is an economic development tool designed to identify actions to address issues and challenges and to capitalizing on the opportunities offered by businesses already in your community. BRE focuses on the assets that you do have rather than on ones that someone else has."
"A strong working relationship between local/regional governments and the business community that leads towards the creation and retention of jobs, expansion of existing assets (business) and the attraction of new complimentary businesses."
"Making local politicians understand the value of spending time with businesses that have already invested in your community."
"Well for me personally it is helping others “justify” the value of BRE. For a community the greatest opportunity is to build the relationship and respect between local government and local existing businesses thereby identifying and removing barriers to economic growth."
"Do not make it just about a data gathering exercise. It is about building a relationship and developing trust. Take the information you learn and put it in to action."