Coordinating a Community-Led Business Retention and Expansion Program

CDFS-1564
Date: 
09/11/2020
Joseph Lucente, Associate Professor and Extension Educator, Community Development, Ohio State University Extension, Lucas County and Ohio Sea Grant
James Morris, Educator, community development and agriculture and natural resources, OSU Extension, Brown County
Gwynn Stewart, Educator, Community Development, Ohio State University Extension, Noble County

Communities are better able to impact their existing business climate when they have a clear understanding of their local and regional economies. One way to learn more about the economy is to engage in a community-based Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) program. When a community undertakes the BRE program, the process helps them implement best practices related to cultivating their business climate and ecosystem (Purdue, 2019). 

Communities that actively implement an on-going BRE program focused on the retention and expansion of local businesses will:

  • improve the business climate of the community
  • help make local businesses remain competitive
  • increase employment
  • stabilize the local economy 

The various duties and tasks typical of a community-based BRE program require coordination. Identifying a local BRE coordinator can be helpful to ensuring program success. A local coordinator can lead the development and overall implementation of the program and will engage a wide variety of local community stakeholders. The coordinator and a task force will seek solutions for businesses in need of financial or logistical assistance.

What does a BRE coordinator do?

Local business issues are handled by the coordinator, who contacts organizations or professionals who can help solve a business problem (Morse, et al., 1987). It is recommended the coordinator first introduce the BRE program concept to a variety of professionals in the local community to address business needs and concerns. A BRE task force composed of community business leaders representing development, local government, education, religious and civic aspects, and retired executives, can assist the coordinator in accomplishing the program goals.. The coordinator or co-coordinators assist in keeping the task force focused.

What are the responsibilities of the BRE coordinator? 

The coordinator serves as the driving force of the BRE program, by introducing and promoting it to the community, coordinating task force meetings, and organizing immediate follow-up to any business concerns. The coordinator also works with other community professionals by establishing a task force to develop business survey questions or review other community surveys. The responsibilities of the BRE coordinator are multi-faceted and can include:

  •  Introducing the BRE program

This includes explaining the program goals through key stakeholder meetings and discussions with the community’s economic development leaders (e.g., county commissioners, county economic development director, mayors, administrators, and other organizations), local media web sites, public meetings, and other informal communication networks. Using a variety of marketing strategies such as television news, print and social media, and a website about the local BRE program and its benefits will enrich the overall results. The coordinator also gathers information about previous or ongoing BRE or economic development efforts.

  • Organizing and conducting meetings

The coordinator ensures a smooth, continuous flow of information for an effective community BRE program. This includes identifying business sectors or communities to be surveyed, developing the survey and visitation schedules, and communicating issues impacting businesses. In addition, the coordinator searches for opportunities to assist businesses through local, state, and federal community and economic development programs, grants, and opportunities for business partnerships. Other meetings the coordinator might want to include in conjunction with the BRE program are: 

• BRE task force meetings: The coordinator meets with the task force for updates on the local business visitation program. They should review business surveys and address any critical needs or concerns. Issues may include businesses that want to relocate outside of the local jurisdiction or physical expansion needs, workforce training and recruitment needs, financial assistance, logistical or supply chain needs, infrastructure development, regulatory hurdles, etc. Task force members can inform the coordinator of any known problems before a scheduled meeting with  business’ leadership.

• Action-planning and program assessment meetings: Action-planning meetings keep the program on track, ensure reaching key milestones and review any missing information. These meetings provide the opportunity to share what has been learned from the business surveys and discuss appropriate responses, as well as recommended programs and services. The action plan shows what needs to be done, who will complete it, and when it will be accomplished. The meetings serve as the annual program assessment to review what works and what does not in the local BRE implementation.

• New member task force meeting: If a BRE program is continuing, a new member meeting is important. Typically, a BRE continues for the improvement of the community and its businesses. New members are periodically needed to assist the coordinator with conducting the program when previous BRE task force members obligations are completed. The new task force member meeting can ensure a smooth transition of outgoing task force members and newly recruited members for successful continuous program operation and implementation.

• Annual BRE summary to the community meeting: The coordinator should report program results back to the community on an annual basis during civic meetings, such as the chamber of commerce and town-hall meetings. This meeting can illustrate a better understanding of the local economy, program accomplishments, and plans for the future. Summaries can be made available for public access on county websites and other social media platforms.

Does the community need more than one BRE coordinator?

Depending on the size of the community, the number of business sectors being surveyed and available resources, leaders consider if more than one coordinator is necessary for successful program implementation. Typically, one dedicated professional is all that is necessary. However, including another professional with economic development experience can lead to more effective program administration as program tasks can be divided. The following examples show the types of professionals that could lead a BRE program as either coordinator or co-coordinator:

  • local OSU Extension community development educator
  • economic development director or economic development staff
  • regional planning director
  • chamber of commerce executives 
  • county, city, village, and township officials

Does the BRE coordinator need specific training?

Having a coordinator with economic development experience to lead a community-based 
BRE program is ideal, but is not necessary. Most important is an understanding of the business community and knowledge of appropriate contacts necessary to assist businesses with opportunities or concerns. Someone with knowledge of local regulatory processes, an understanding of sectors in the area, linkages to state and federal resources, such as grant and loan programs and other business finance mechanisms can also be important to the successful coordinator role. 

Conclusion

Community leaders need to consider a number of factors to determine the biggest economic benefit from assisting in business relocation, expansion, or startup (Vitcenda, 2012). The importance of a local coordinator to the success of a community BRE program should not be underestimated. The responsibilities to educate local leaders, build capacity, develop, and implement the program, and meet programmatic goals and objectives are keys to success for the local community and its business climate. A capable coordinator that works to create momentum, reach consensus, and motivate team players can increase the understanding of local community needs and establish a realistic description of current economic conditions. The local BRE coordinator, working in conjunction with an effective task force, can create a positive business environment that secures current and future dividends for the local economy.

References:

Civittolo, D. (2010). Business Retention and Expansion Program, CDFS-1562-10. Ohio State University Extension. Columbus, Ohio, The Ohio State University. Retrieved from ohioline.osu.edu/cd-fact/pdf/1562.pdf.   

Lucente, J. (2010). Involving Volunteers in a Community-Led Business Retention and Expansion Program, CDFS-1563-10. Ohio State University Extension. Columbus, Ohio, The Ohio State University. Retrieved from ohioline.osu.edu/cd-fact/pdf/1563.pdf.  

Morse, G., McLaughlin, R., and Hagey, E. (1987). Business Visitation Programs: Success Stories. The North Central Regional Center for Rural Development. Aimes, Iowa: Iowa State University Press. 

Strohm, H. & Hall, T. (2019) The Often Overlooked Economic Development Strategy: Business Retention and Expansion.  Purdue Extension. Retrieved from cdext.purdue.edu/the-often-overlooked-economic-development-strategy-business-retention-and-expansion/

Vitcenda, Mary. (2012). Helping communities make better economic decisions. Retrieved from extension.umn.edu/vital-connections/helping-communities-make-better-economic-decisions

This fact sheet was originally published in 2012 by Joseph Lucente.

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