Day 21: How Do I Start a BR&E Program?

Day 21:  How do I start a BR&E Program?  As suggested in prior days taking care of the business you already have is THE most important thing you can do.  I am sorry if I offend anyone with some of my comments, but I am really surprised when I come across an economic development organization that does not have a Business Retention and Expansion Program.  Talk about low hanging fruit.  Your local businesses obviously like your community or they wouldn’t be there.  Why spend countless hours trying to bring in new business when you can help the ones you got.  Several years ago I was responsible for Existing Industry for the Iowa Department of Economic Development.  I went on a call with a community economic development person to a nice manufacturing company that employed about 100 people.  The type of business everyone would want to have in their community.  There had been some upgrades to the street in front of their facility which had caused increased traffic.  When the employees would get off work, there was a very long wait to pull onto the street.  The owner expressed his appreciation for the new street which had been widened and accommodated truck traffic much better.  But, he was concerned about the safety of his employees because they were waiting so long to pull onto the street he felt they were being more aggressive at turning in front of oncoming traffic.  The local ED contacted the city and asked if they had any ideas.  The city administrator had a traffic counter placed on the street and he went out and observed the traffic at the time when everyone got off work.  Using facts the city installed a three way stop sign at first and then put in a traffic light that only operated during the end of shifts.  That is the happiest I have ever seen an owner after answering a concern.  He wrote a big check to the economic development group and chaired the BR&E Committee.  Twenty five years later that company is going strong and employs 400 people.  How many incentives would you throw at a company wanting to bring 300 jobs into your community?  For the cost of a traffic study and a light, maybe $25,000 at the time, that was a pretty good ROI for the community.

To start the program, I would encourage you to purchase a BR&E software.  We have a very strong bias towards Synchronist.  The big reason is all subscribers have the same set of questions, so you can compare the answers to your community with those in other communities.  The Synchronist questions are also excellent questions.

Next, you need to identify the businesses you want to visit.  These typically are the larger employers in the private sector.  I am not a fan of asking these questions to your school district.  You can have a meeting with them to discuss how things are going but they really can’t answer most of the questions on a business survey.   I have some reservations including hospitals but recently many hospitals are struggling in rural areas, so it would be a good idea to stay in contact and see if you can assist them.  Then you just need to follow the Synchronist formula which is collect some pre information about the company.  Don’t spend time at the meeting collecting this.  Then set up an appointment, make the visit and follow-up.  Follow-up is the most important part of this whole process.  If the ED pro had not followed up with the city in my example above, that company could have very well moved and at the very least, would probably not return any phone calls, because you wasted their time.  I feel there should not be more than two people on a visit.  I understand there may be some “politics” involved and you have to include more.  But really no more than three.  The purpose of these visits is to see if there are any obstacles.  They may not say they have a problem with the city if a city staff person is there or a city official.  I prefer to not have any city staff at these meetings.  But, I know it may not be possible.  If the  city staff does occur, than after the meeting I would do a follow-up call if they didn’t bring up any concerns during the meeting and ask if there was anything they wanted to say during the meeting but felt uncomfortable doing so.  Next:  Do I go to trade shows?

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