Mills County Focuses on Local Business Retention and Expansion

Mills County Focuses on Local Business Retention and Expansion Main Photo

11 Nov 2020


The best economic development strategy for any community incorporates a focus on sustainability and growth. For every small or large city, county or cooperative, a well-defined Business Retention and Expansion Program is critical to the development of the relationships and connections that will lead to consistent economic success. 

Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E)  is an economic development strategy of connecting with existing businesses within a community to understand their needs and determine actions to promote their success, thereby facilitating the community’s success. It is a dedication by an economic development entity to strengthen the connection between the community it represents and the businesses existing within, while reducing hurdles to paths for growth. 

A BR&E program requires developing and maintaining positive relationships with existing businesses. Economic development agencies must commit significant time and dedication to a set program to make necessary connections to form those relationships. Ambivalence to  BR&E as a key foundational step to an effective local business community is a significant misstep, as investing time and resources into recruiting new businesses while losing existing ones is an inefficient and, ultimately, a failing business model. 

BR&E Attributes

An effective BR&E Program is based on accurate knowledge of the local business community, followed by frequent communication paths between key players. The program should be well-planned and follow a detailed preparation process. The following steps are a guideline to understanding a community's businesses needs and developing value-added services to drive future success.   

The first step is to form a BR&E Taskforce. This group should include diverse stakeholders representing the community’s demographics. The taskforce should meet regularly, with an initial task to develop a list of existing businesses that are critical to the community's goals and would be willing to participate in a local business survey.  

A successful business initiative requires the ability to gain community support. No economic development organization should expect success operating isolation. Taskforce members must reach out to other community stakeholders to participate in the initial BR&E program development, gaining buy-in to various elements of the program. Examples include the community’s need for the program, key questions to address in the survey and how best to communicate the program's existence and goals to businesses.  

Operating in a vacuum will hinder success, so the taskforce must develop a business survey. Key members of the taskforce should be assigned to develop the survey to understand the current business environment. Questions should focus on areas of success and opportunities for improvement, such as community strengths and bottlenecks, workforce status quo and development, infrastructure and likely areas for growth and expansion. 

Surveys and business site visits are the primary methods to collect the data needed to formulate the current business environment. Each business from the developed list should receive the survey at the same time, with follow-up by the taskforce members to mitigate any issues with responding. An additional benefit to the survey is a demonstration of commitment to the business community. The second aspect of data collection comes by conducting site visits. Taskforce members should perform survey follow-ups and ask businesses their willingness to host a site visit. They can provide more in-depth information than the survey itself and can highlight the most significant limiters in the business community and identify those businesses most likely to close or relocate. 

A smaller subcommittee of the taskforce should analyze the data and report the findings. Typical results include identifying business community strengths, but more importantly, those specific areas of concern that may limit existing business successes.

The taskforce must develop and communicate an action plan to include several services the BR&E Program can provide businesses. Examples of services include a business directory for services, a local calendar of activities, where to get advice on creating a business plan and how to find technical assistance specifically for financing. The plan should also include networking opportunities to build on the momentum of the BR&E Program. Receptions, lunches or breakfasts with city officials or taskforce members will show businesses the city values them and provides opportunities to discuss ideas and concerns with local elected officials.

Finally, at some point during the BR&E process, the creation of a branded product should be sought. A signature product and brand can define the unique nature of the community's business direction, easily distinguishing it from surrounding areas.

Connections & Relationships

A focused BR&E program will improve the business operating climate of a community by ensuring healthy competition, providing quality employment opportunities and stabilizing local economic development. That dedication will, in turn, allow businesses to stay, thrive and demonstrate their commitment to the community. Multi-directional engagement amplifies the ability of economic development entities and local businesses to assess opportunities and understand available resources to address future issues that may impact their economies. 

Through a partnership with the Glenwood Area Chamber of Commerce, the Mills County Economic Development Foundation is committed to business retention and expansion by providing assistance and consultation through its professional staff and board members to help business and communities achieve their development goals. Please contact us to discuss how we can help today!