Recently I ran across an excellent paper by academics in the School of Regional Planning at Georgia Tech that I thought was an excellent “return to basics” for economic development agencies and organizations working in the Business Retention and Expansion.
The authors break down the pros and cons of two BRE approaches and lay out simple steps for the basics of a great BRE program.
1) Build a space database. Organize a database of all buildings in the area, including valuation and tax information, to compare and contrast possible properties to expand or grow operations. The paper suggests some excellent sources for gathering the information.
2) Send out the surveys. This standard best practice is covered with some starter questions, and of course there are plenty of additional suggestions available from a casual Google search. I’ve seen some surveys that span dozens of pages and include hundreds of questions — it’s important to strike balance between thoroughness and brevity, since the longer the survey is the less likely a busy owner will carve out the time to answer it.
3) Collaborate. As the writers point out, “There a usually too many business issues for a single BR&E group to address, thus it is necessary to form partnerships with local businesses to assist and act as advisors.” Categorize the issues into actionable opportunities and work with your community partners — educational institutions, workforce development organizations, local government regulatory and service providers, utilities, and/or professional associations — to develop programs to meet these needs.
And lastly, a suggestion not mentioned in the paper: 4) Use the resources you’ve gathered to examine your own practices. You just put together a marketing program with a partner — why not apply the program to your own marketing as an economic development organization? Many of the programs designed to businesses be more efficient and sustainable apply to any organization, like website development, accounting, or business process efficiency. Would you trust a chef who didn’t eat his or her own food? Likewise, an EDO will come across as more credible and trustworthy to the private sector when it practices what it preaches.