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Business Retention & Expansion Program Builds Communities

Tuesday, May 5, 2015  
Posted by: Elizabeth Peters
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In communities across the U.S., citizens and local leaders often think about—and talk about—what they want their community to become. The tough part is getting there: working together with others in the community to influence their future.

In the Mid-Willamette Valley, a new multi-year initiative has been launched that gives communities the framework and technical research to effectively create their own economic development plans. The program, endorsed by the International Economic Development Council, was launched in 2014 by Strategic Economic Development Corporation (SEDCOR), the lead economic development organization for Marion, Polk, and Yamhill County. 

The program brings together business leaders, local government and education officials, professional economic developers and interested citizens to systematically create a plan for the benefit of existing local businesses and the community. It’s a method that has been practiced in the Midwest and East Coast states for decades, but is relatively new to the West Coast.

In a nutshell, SEDCOR comes alongside communities to facilitate the process of researching, prioritizing and implementing a targeted economic development plan for each community.  

Business Retention & Expansion at the community level

The Business Retention & Expansion program is a multi-faceted program that results in an effective and working economic development plan and stronger dialogue between businesses and local community leaders. 

SEDCOR starts by working with community members to bring together local chambers of commerce, city officials, leaders in education, and community leaders to create a leadership team. This leadership team, acting as a sort of steering committee, is charged with making sure the program gets executed. The team begins by scoping the project—selecting three industry segments in which to work (most have chosen tourism, manufacturing, agriculture and general business), and deciding how many companies to interview. 

Following this initial scoping phase, the leadership team selects community interviewers who, working in teams of two, will visit local businesses using confidential, structured surveys. These surveys are designed to gather information that helps to understand the issues, opportunities and/or concerns of companies in the community. Interviews are conducted over a two-week period, so the number of interviewees needed is based on how many companies the leadership team feels they can visit over the short period of time.

Selection of the leadership team and interviewers is critical to the success of the project because every community is like a fingerprint, with a different shape, features, assets, and challenges from any other. The leadership team and interviewers, therefore, should be active in the community, but not have served in an official capacity, where they would have pre-conceptions about potential survey results. Interviewees must go through a two-hour training course before they go in to a business.

During the process of conducting the surveys of businesses, community leaders demonstrate concern and support for local businesses and work to help solve immediate issues or red flags. 

Data That Guides Good Decisions

The data from these surveys—held in the strictest confidence—is then collected and analyzed by SEDCOR to identify commonalities and trends among the companies. Using all of this collective information gleaned from the interviews, SEDCOR works with the leadership team to develop prioritized lists of issues, opportunities and concerns so they can be addressed to the satisfaction of both the community and its businesses. 

From the prioritized list, a strategic plan for economic development is then created for each community, and a broad-based coalition is formed to sustain growth and development. The summary data can be used very effectively for decision makers to focus on real solutions to real problems in their community.

Studies have shown that business retention and expansion programs encourage local businesses to stay and grow in a community. The technical assistance provided through this type of program can help businesses increase competitiveness, help with expansions that add jobs, keep a company from relocating, and help a company survive economic difficulties. BR&E is especially good at connecting businesses to local networks they may not be aware of. 

Longer-term Perspective

Over the long term, the goal of the Mid-Willamette Valley BR&E program is to increase local business’ ability to compete in the global economy by creating county-wide and region-wide coordinated economic development plans and address issues at the local level. The program ultimately will uncover common issues and opportunities among businesses across the region, and efforts to address business needs in the region can be more targeted and effective. 

The data and intelligence gleaned from the program can also help attract new companies to a community, and foster the creation of new businesses. This type of data effectively identifies the assets and competitive strengths and weaknesses of a local area. It can also be effective at informing public policy decisions that can impact the local business climate. 

Nick Harville, Business Retention & Expansion Manager at SEDCOR, spearheaded the effort in Marion County and is currently working with five cities that are in the process of developing their leadership teams. AJ Foscoli, who recently joined SEDCOR to lead Business Retention and Expansion efforts in Polk and Yamhill County, reports that communities in both Polk and Yamhill Counties have expressed interest in starting the program as well.

SEDCOR expects that the initiative will help with local business retention efforts. By evaluating and addressing key needs and concerns of companies at the local level, companies become more competitive. Businesses that stay competitive are more likely to remain and expand. By addressing common business concerns, citizens and public officials will support a healthier future for their community. 

“I think the best outcome will be building relationships between community leaders and our local businesses,” said Keith D. Campbell, City Administrator for the City of Stayton, Oregon. “I hope that the BR&E program develops collaborative relationships, provides an understanding for the needs of our local businesses, and opens up communication for available resources to assist said business,” he said. “BR&E has proved to be successful and I am happy that the community is focusing on this program.”

For more information about the Mid-Willamette Valley business retention & expansion initiative, contact Nick Harville at 503-837-1804 or nharville@sedcor.com

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