Dance With Who “Brung” You
In the world of economic development, it is big news to land a new company. The media loves to do stories on the new guy coming to town. But what about those companies that are already here? A 2011 study from the Brookings Institute and The Rockefeller Foundation cited that 42 percent of jobs created in most states were from existing business, 56 percent from starts ups and only 2 percent from relocating a business. Existing businesses are already making investments and hiring workers in our communities. When doing economic development strategy, take to heart what the Texas swing band, Asleep at the Wheel, says when they sing “Dance With Who Brung You.”
A key part of a solid economic development program not only marketing, but assessing existing business needs and working to address them. These types of activities, called business, retention and expansion strategies, (BREs) may not make the headlines, but are important for keeping and growing the existing business base. In fact, statistics show it is 10 times easier to keep an existing industry than to go recruit a new one.
BREs typically target those companies that create goods and services whose primary customer base is most likely outside of the area. The success of the company is not dependent on local customers, but instead on the domicile community’s available workforce, friendly business climate and strong infrastructure that often include technology, airport, connectivity, easy commutes and strong schools to attract and to grow a quality workforce. Routinely asking for feedback on what is important to their business’s success gives those of us in economic development direction on where to focus to improve the business climate for these businesses and in general.
More often than not, the business leaders for the companies targeted in BREs are frequently not part of standard community circles. They are more likely engaged in their industry associations and circles and not as likely to be active with chambers of commerce, civic organizations or public engagement forums. To build relationships, we must seek these leaders out in their circles of influence, make sure they know we appreciate that they have chosen our community and we want to do everything possible to help them thrive here. Meeting with them is nice but not enough. Following through on improving the business climate is critical.
One last word on why BREs are important. Economic development is highly competitive. Don’t be “asleep at the wheel” and think that your businesses are not being courted by other communities because odds are that they are.
So the parting words from the band Asleep At The Wheel…
In the long run
You’ll have more fun
If you dance with who brung you
Swing with who swung you,
Dance who came with you to the band!