I was having a conversation with an economic development professional (a Business Retention & Expansion manager), and he was sharing his organization’s approach to retaining and growing with existing local companies. It started positively, and then the more he talked, the more he described his issues:
- He wanted to a “real” and robust BRE program.
- The current program was too limited to conducting site visits once/year with key businesses.
- He wanted “to have a continual dialogue with companies.”
- He needed to more quickly use the results of the interviews in issue-resolution for the client and community.
- There’s no system to their relationship-building with companies. It was too much of a task-focused endeavor.
Much of what the BRE professional was lamenting is common in the industry. Too much work, and too little time. So the focus is on hitting a targeted number of site visits, helping when issues arise in a manner that’s not efficient or systematic enough, having large lag time between gathering information and acting on well thought out strategies, and getting activities done more than relationships developed.
This is common…but it doesn’t mean it’s the step to greatness.
To take that next step, even if staffing resources don’t increase, several other aspects of the program should change:
- BRE programs need to have a mix of research activities; overreliance on site visits (the most labor-intensive data collection method) reduces capacity for issue-resolution, planning, and real relationship development. Phone/web-based surveys, and BRE News Research are efficient ways of complementing site visits.
- Creating 12-month Touch Point Plans helps organizations build client knowledge and relationships, often without having to take a step onsite. These need to be developed/executed to make relationship-building happen on an ongoing basis.
- Developing resource databases and detailed search capabilities such as exist in some BRE applications expedites identification of people/grants/processes/services that can be used to impact business needs and issues. These databases can also expedite the sharing of resources with the business itself.
If you’re lamenting the difficulties in moving your BRE program to greatness, take these 3 great steps.
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