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Ohio State University Extension


Business Retention and Expansion Program

Community Development
David Civittolo, Associate Professor and Interim Assistant Director, Community Development, Ohio State University Extension
James Morris, Educator, Community Development and Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ohio State University Extension, Brown County
Gwynn Stewart, Educator, Community Development, Ohio State University Extension, Noble County
Godwin Apaliyah, PhD, Educator, Community Development, Ohio State University Extension, Fayette County

A Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) program provides the resources, training, and tools to develop community capacity to better understand the local economy. Communities that actively implement an on-going BRE program focusing on the retention and expansion of local businesses will improve the business climate of the community, help make local businesses remain competitive, and stabilize the economy. Existing businesses are important to overall economic growth. Some studies estimate the percentage of net new jobs created by existing firms are as high as 80%, while the most conservative estimates say 40% (Kraybill 1995).

Why conduct a BRE program?

Business retention and expansion is the foundation of effective economic development. It makes little sense to invest time and resources to recruit new businesses, while losing others due to lack of attention to changing needs or emerging obstacles (Anderson IEDC). A proactive community and economic development approach taken by local governments and local economic development agencies involves learning more about the needs of local companies. One way is to conduct a Business Retention and Expansion survey of existing businesses. Such a survey can provide valuable insight into the business community and give local officials the ability to assist companies in staying competitive. 

What is a BRE program?

A BRE program is an economic development plan designed to assist local governments and economic development organizations assess the needs and barriers of existing businesses in a community. It includes all ongoing local economic development programs that focus on retaining and growing the existing businesses in a community. 

When a community undertakes the BRE program, the process helps implement best practices related to cultivating their business climate and ecosystem (Purdue 2019). When issues facing businesses can be better understood, the local community is better positioned to work with them in addressing such issues to ensure continuity and growth. A formal BRE program is a structured and coordinated effort involving a broad cross section of community interests, engaged in ongoing dialogue with the business community to help existing businesses remain profitable, competitive, and efficient (Morse 1990).

Who is involved in conducting such a program?

Although there are many community players that participate in BRE programs, the leadership of the program typically comes from a local coordinator. However, there is no distinct organization or individual that needs to be the BRE coordinator. Typically, the coordinator works in the field of economic development. For example, a Community Development Extension educator with an expertise in community and economic development or planning might become the local coordinator. 

Consider a partnership with the local Ohio State University Extension office on the task force. Viewed as a tremendous resource, many communities want an engaged university to help address local and global issues. OSU Extension serves as the portal for communities to initiate engagement and collaboration with the academic enterprise (Gee 2019). Extension offices are a link to professional staff and community volunteers. Extension provides services and a bilateral community engagement to the university (Gee 2019). Extension Community Development pursues proven and innovative science-based strategies to expand the diversity of people and organizations having active roles in tackling the challenges that affect the well-being of communities (Beaulieu & Cordes 2014)

Other coordinator options may include a member of the local chamber of commerce, public utility official, or local government agency. There may even be a civic-minded volunteer who is willing to coordinate locally.

The BRE coordinator introduces and promotes the program to the community, coordinates task force meetings, and organizes immediate follow-up to any business needs or concerns. The coordinator also works with economic professionals to review other community surveys and the OSU Extension BRE questions banks to develop the local survey questions. 

An individual who wants to participate in the program, but does not want to be the coordinator, might volunteer to be a member of the local task force. The task force is a broad-based, diverse group of local leaders that includes representatives of economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, business, government, educational, nonprofits, and religious institutions. The role of the local task force is to work with the coordinator and assist in developing the survey, promoting the program, interviewing businesses managers, and addressing any business needs or concerns. Local business officials are asked to participate in the program by completing survey documents and meeting with the local task force to discuss any company needs or concerns. 

How do you conduct a BRE program?

Most BRE programs consist of task force volunteers who visit local businesses, interview senior-level managers, implement surveys and an action-plan, and conduct public relations efforts. These can be conducted in an ongoing or continuous format, or as a one-time approach. A continuous approach enables the BRE to become a part of the community's everyday economic development efforts.

The nine-step process outlined below is useful regardless of the approach you intend to take. Many communities lean toward the one-time approach to get started. If selected, you should expect the steps below to take at least six to eight months from start to finish.

Nine Steps to the BRE Process

The BRE coordinator is responsible for the overall organization and management of the local program. The following is a list of tasks typically handled by the coordinator.

  • Introduce the BRE program to community stakeholders (e.g., county commissioners, county economic development director, mayors, administrators, and other organizations with similar responsibilities) and review previous or on-going economic development efforts. 
  • Introduce the BRE program to the community, inform the community about the program via local media (e.g., civic meetings, press releases, social media, and newspaper articles).
  • Organize and conduct meetings, schedule meetings required during the BRE program and any additional meetings required with the task force. This includes:
    • Task force orientation and follow-up meetings to create and review the surveys
    • Action-planning meetings to address critical business issues
    • Meetings to communicate results of the program to the public
  • Prepare a list for the selection of businesses.
  • Coordinate data collection.
  • Collect contact information for the targeted businesses, print surveys, and cover letters, and send materials.
  • Coordinate activities associated with business visits.
  • Collect and review surveys.
  • Coordinate responses to immediate business needs and concerns.
  • Manage the data entry and analysis process.
  • Coordinate action-planning, program assessment, and reporting.
  1. The coordinator forms a BRE task force and schedules meetings.
    1. The task force consists of a diverse group of local volunteers who are willing to create the survey with the coordinator, conduct on-site business visits, and identify and address any issues impacting business operations.
  2. The coordinator schedules and holds task force meetings.
    1. The coordinator provides a program overview and discusses goals with the task force.
    2. The coordinator and task force discusses the program approach: target specific industries and communities or a blanket approach?
    3. The coordinator discusses data collection methods and introduces a timeline.
  3. The coordinator announces the local BRE program to the public through various media channels, social media tools, or civic opportunities.
  4. The coordinator distributes business surveys.
    1. The task force and the coordinator finalize the target business list.
    2. The coordinator and/or task force creates the survey and tests its online form.
    3. The coordinator and/or task force sends advance notice letters/emails or makes advance calls to survey participants.
    4. The coordinator and/or task force mails and/or emails the link to the survey.
    5. The coordinator and/or task force mails and/or emails reminders and/or follows-up with reminder calls and/or thank-you notices.
  5. The coordinator and task force conducts business visits.
    1. The coordinator and task force selects businesses to visit.
    2. The coordinator assigns task force members to business visits.
  6. The coordinator collects and tabulates response data.
    1. The coordinator and/or task force enters response data from the surveys. 
  7. The coordinator and task force addresses identified business needs or concerns.
    1. The coordinator and/or task force reviews completed surveys.
    2. The coordinator engages task force members to assist with identified business needs or concerns.
  8. The coordinator analyzes and reports big picture response data.
    1. The coordinator reviews responses with the task force.
    2. The coordinator identifies and tracks action items.
  9. The coordinator communicates results and shares success stories with the public.
    1. The coordinator and/or task force identifies internal and external audiences.
    2. The coordinator and/or task force develops key messages.
    3. The coordinator and/or task force holds appropriate media/events.


A vibrant community works to nurture their business climate (Strohm & Hall 2019). A BRE program is designed to capture business owners' thoughts, ideas, concerns, future plans, and valuable insights into the local community. The program requires time and effort to listen and respond quickly to local businesses and to the workforce. These efforts can promote a pro-business climate in the community and to external businesses searching to expand or relocate. 

A BRE program can also develop the capacity of the coordinator and task force members to engage in meaningful community and economic development efforts. Exercising this capacity enhances the local BRE efforts, enables better-informed community and economic development strategies, and helps inform task force members and the community-at-large about individual and community business concerns. Most importantly, it fosters improved relationships among local development organizations and individuals in the business community.

Existing businesses are major contributors to the local government tax base, and they also provide jobs for local residents. As the local economy becomes a global economy, ensuring businesses are operating at optimal capacity becomes a priority for local economic development professionals. Conducting a BRE program provides local government with a specific understanding of the needs, concerns , and opportunities of surveyed businesses.


Louise Anderson, L. International Economic Development Council (IEDC). Establishing a business retention and expansion program.

Beaulieu, L.J. & Cordes, S. (2014). Extension Community Development: Building Strong, Vibrant Communities. Journal of Extension, v52-5comm1. Retrieved from

Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Retrieved from

Gee, E.G., Gavazzi, S.M., Rennekamp, R., & Bonanno, S. (2019) Cooperative Extension Services and the 21st Century Land-Grant Mission. The EvoLLLution. Retrieved from

Kraybill, David S. (1995) Retention and Expansion First. Ohio’s Challenge 8 (2): 4-7.

Morse, George W. (1990). A Conceptual Model of Retention and Expansion Business Visitation Programs. In George W. Morse (Ed.), The Retention and Expansion of Existing Businesses: Theory and Practice in Business Visitation Programs (3–16). Iowa: Iowa State University Press. 

Ohio State University Extension. (2020). Business Retention and Expansion Program Handbook (9th ed.).

Strohm, H. & Hall, T. (2019). The Often Overlooked Economic Development Strategy: Business Retention and Expansion. Purdue Extension. Retrieved from

Tweeten, Kathleen K. & Barefield, A. (2017). Business Retention and Expansion Visitation Fundamentals. North Dakota State University. Retrieved from

University of Minnesota Extension Service. (2007). Community Leaders Business Retention and Expansion Strategies Program.

This fact sheet originally published in 2010 was written by David Civittolo.


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Originally posted Sep 11, 2020.