July 8, 2019 by Luke Mason
We wanted to better understand how economic developers approach business retention and expansion (BRE). I mean, how it really works—the nuts and bolts of BRE and business engagement. So we interviewed small-town chambers and major metro regional economic development organizations and state departments of commerce about their business engagement process.
How do they prepare for site visits? Do they use data or is it strictly about relationships? How do they prioritize which companies to visit?
Through these and many other questions, we found that business engagement (whether BRE or business services for workforce organizations) is a complicated field that varies by community size, location, and organization. We also discovered commonalities between communities that do business engagement well, with processes, data, and strategies that help them see results.
We distilled what we learned into a Business Engage Playbook that includes three quick, digestible best practices to help EDOs, workforce boards, and other community partners effectively engage with local businesses. In the Playbook, we walk through the pain points many practitioners feel every day, and how being proactive and armed with the right information makes a world of difference.
What are the common challenges communities face when trying to support companies? These quotes from our conversations aren’t comprehensive, but they give you an idea:
“We are stuck in the prioritization phase. We work with the same employers and don’t know who else we should be talking to.”
“We respond to the businesses who reach out, but we struggle to be proactive in our engagement with new employers.”
“Our goal is to know the issues facing the region and be the expert on that company’s industry.”
We also talked to local and regional EDOs that have shaped their BRE processes through years of learning, data collection, and lots of trial and error. They’re on the leading edge of serving and supporting their region’s businesses. Tips from EDOs like these are in the Playbook as well.
Like these economic developers, we are still learning about how communities, regions, and states approach BRE and business engagement. The Playbook is our first attempt at cataloguing and sharing what we’ve discovered over the last year, but we’re hungry to learn and share more. Email me at [email protected] to share your BRE successes and strategies, and we’ll continue to highlight best practices from across the U.S. on our blog and in our newsletter.