Involving Volunteers in a Community-Led Business Retention and Expansion Program

CDFS-1563
Community Development
Date: 
09/11/2020
Joseph Lucente, Associate Professor and Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Lucas County and Ohio Sea Grant
James Morris, Extension 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

Existing businesses create and retain most of the jobs in local communities. They are a major contributor to any local government's tax base and are the real economic engines of any local economy. A community may choose to conduct a Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) survey to better understand its current local economic climate. The program is often led by a local coordinator who serves as a point of contact. However, the coordinator cannot accomplish the BRE survey alone. It is important to enlist a team of community volunteers to help accomplish this task. The team is known as the BRE task force and is recruited by the local BRE coordinator for the various skill sets they provide. The BRE program is a collaborative effort designed to help communities understand ways existing resources could be employed to bring about positive economic change (Davis, 2012). Consider this scenario: the BRE coordinator is the quarterback of the team. A quarterback alone cannot win the game without the help of team players. The role of the task force is like the offensive line, running backs, and wide receivers. The components work together to forge ahead and win. However, like team sports, the overall strength of the task force team is critical for success.

What background should the coordinator consider for an effective BRE task force member?

The strength of any successful task force is tied directly to its team of community players. 

An effective task force consists of the following professionals: a mix of community business leaders, development officials, local government and education officials, religious, non-profit, and civic leaders, retired executives, and professionals. 

Another consideration should be given to the diversity of members. It enhances the community learning experience by exposing and challenging individuals to consider, weigh and value the thoughts, experiences and practices of others who may be different from themselves (Moore, 2020). In addition, the individual talents a task force member should possess include experience in human relations, media relations, report writing, and computer, analytical, and organizational skills. 
Some consideration may also be given to involving youth in the BRE program as a community development process. As the next generation of the community, perhaps there are opportunities to offer young residents a place on the task force to learn details of program development, policy, and program details. Youth may fill a void in meeting the need for new ideas and services, provide community service credit, skill attainment, and experience (Brennan 2007). Possible sources for youth representation include Kiwanis Key clubs, FFA, 4-H, Buckeye Boys or Girls State participants or high school guidance counselor recommendations.

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 may be a link to professional staff and community volunteers. In the community setting, Extension provides services and a bilateral community engagement to the university (Gee, 2019). The OSU Extension Community Development program pursues proven and innovative science-based strategies to expand the diversity of people and organizations and has an active role in tackling the challenges that affect the well-being of communities (Beaulieu & Cordes, 2014).

How many people should be on the task force and for how long?

Involving community volunteers helps ensure BRE work is developed with a broad cross-section of community interests (Davis, 2012). Typically, the number of task force members the BRE coordinator may want to recruit varies by program and is dependent on available resources, the business survey area, and size of the local community. Communities can utilize anywhere from eight to 10 task force members composed of the aforementioned professionals. One year is the ideal time frame for task force service. An effective BRE program should continue from year-to-year to assist community and economic development and its mission to better understand and provide solutions to local businesses.

What are the specific responsibilities/expectations of a volunteer BRE task force?

The role of the volunteer task force in a local community BRE program is multi-faceted. The specific responsibilities are below. 

  • The task force serves as a sounding board and provides advice and guidance to the BRE coordinator. The group helps set clear, attainable, and manageable goals for the program. Community-minded people that make up a task force often have an increased understanding of what is happening in the business community and share with the coordinator. The task force provides assistance in securing endorsements from local supporting organizations to publicize the program and its benefits to the community.
  • The task force assists the coordinator with service to various subcommittees (such as media relations, data entry, analysis and reporting, policy, etc.). Division of task force responsibilities is coordinated among volunteer members to best utilize individual skill sets and avoid duplication of effort for overall group efficiency.
  • The task force participates in the development and implementation of the business survey. The survey sets the tone for the type of information collected from local businesses. The task force conducts business site visits with the BRE coordinator to secure survey information. 

A local task force reviews the survey results and responds to the needs and concerns expressed by businesses (NRCRD). This serves as an important function because it can enable volunteer task force members and the coordinator to address critical issues that may arise.

  • The task force participates in action planning and program assessment. This helps set a framework of identifying action items, who will be responsible as well as how and when they will be accomplished. This also allows the coordinator and the task force to assess the overall performance of the BRE program and its ability in addressing the needs of the local business community.
  • The task force coordinates publicity of the BRE program results. This is beneficial in letting the public know who the volunteer task force members are and what their commitment is to the local business community.
  • The task force welcomes new volunteers. This ensures a smooth transition of new members for the continuous flow of the BRE program.

Conclusion

Involving volunteers in a community-led BRE program can be an effective way to gauge the pulse of the local business community. The task force can be instrumental to overall program success by providing backgrounds rich in diverse experience pertaining to community and economic development and business operations. Members should be influential, knowledgeable business and community leaders representing a broad range of community interests (Woods). Ensuring broad community representation is the best way to address the number of issues that arise when dealing with community businesses. Broad representation also helps community businesses find the correct resources for their problems. As with any team, task force members should be considered for their various skills, knowledge, and experience. They should also be able to process information in a timely manner and communicate concerns to the BRE coordinator so follow up with businesses in need is completed.

References

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

Brennan, M.A., Barnett, R.V.,  Eboni, B. (2007). Youth Involvement in Community Development: Implications and Possibilities for Extension. Journal of Extension, v45-4FEA3. Retrieved from joe.org/joe/2007august/a3.php.

Davis, Greg. (2012). The Value in Evaluating and Communicating Program Impact: The Ohio BR&E Program. Journal of Extension, v50-3rb1. Retrieved from joe.org/joe/2012june/rb1.php.

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 evolllution.com/revenue-streams/extending_lifelong_learning/cooperative-extension-services-and-the-21st-century-land-grant-mission/.

Moore, James L., (2020). Ohio State University Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer. odi.osu.edu/about-office-diversity-and-inclusion.

Woods, M., N. Williams, C. Allen, and J. Frye. Retention and Expansion: A Local Economic Development Strategy, Circular E-928. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Oklahoma State University. 5. pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document2972/E-928.pdf.

Business Retention and Expansion Visitation Program. nercrd.psu.edu/Publications/BRE/BREV_taskforce.pdf.

This fact sheet was originally published in 2010 by Joseph Lucente.
 

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