As an economic developer, you have probably heard countless times and know from experience that a majority of your community’s job growth and investment will come from existing businesses. In addition, a solid business retention and expansion (BRE) program is the best defense against someone else’s business recruitment program. So, why is it that nearly 60% of the hundreds of economic developers that responded to our Capacity Readiness Survey do not currently conduct BRE surveys/visits OR talk to employers every year but do not formally document the visits through BRE software? Where is this disconnect stemming from?
Through our work with many EDOs each year, we have identified the following as initial considerations to start and/or improve your formal BRE program.
- Determine which entity will be responsible for BRE visits. Having representatives from the city, the county and the chamber at the table for BRE visits is an unnecessary overlap in resources and may be overwhelming for a company. Instead, figure out which organization has the appropriate time/resources to conduct these visits. Whichever organization takes on the responsibility should then follow-up with all vested parties after each visit with a recap.
- Identify a program to record the visits/surveys. There are a variety of programs that can help your organization collect, manage and analyze BRE surveys, such as Synchronist, Executive Pulse, and Salesforce, among others. As a starting point, consider asking around to see which BRE program your state and/or regional EDO partners use. By using the same program as key partners, it will be easier to share and integrate data, but you should also be sure that the chosen program aligns with your organization’s goals. Many of these programs also have pre-made BRE surveys that can be tailored to your needs.
- Create a focused list of companies to visit. The number and type of companies to interview will depend on the size and resources of your organization. Consider starting with a list of the largest employers that would have the greatest impact on the economy if they downsized or relocated. Then look at companies that may not be as large, but are in emerging industries or are doing really unique and innovative things, as these may be growth opportunities for your region.
For those EDOs that have already successfully completed the steps above and are conducting several formal BRE visits each year, now move towards the more advanced step of mining the BRE data.
If you are looking for advice on improving your BRE program or would like help mining your BRE data, give the Ady Advantage team a call at 608-663-9218. If you are interested in taking our Capacity Readiness Survey to find out how your community stacks up against your peers, visit the Research Initiatives area of our website.