At the conclusion of a Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) program, a final community report is created.
When you envision how your final report will look, think about your target audience, how much they may already know about the local community and how you will present the data in the final BRE report (Stewart and Lucente 2021). Concise writing should be used to enhance readability which increases the chances of being read, understood, and utilized. Using language and terms familiar to readers, providing a guide to the layout of the report, and following a logical and consistent format can help make reports effective and attract multiple audiences (How to Write a Business Report 2017).
This fact sheet is intended as a guide for community planners, economic development professionals, extension professionals, and volunteers in a community BRE program. It provides background information about evaluating, analyzing, report writing, and using survey results and data to respond to a community’s economic needs. This fact sheet can also inform reporting and communication strategies to develop a final report that communicates the story of a local community’s economy.
Writing for Your Audience
Research has shown that people have different learning styles. Writers must keep these learning styles in mind as reports are formatted and written. Hilligoss (2000) notes that readers approach documents in various ways, depending upon their goals. Readers may want to:
- Skim for the general meaning of the whole document.
- Scan quickly for specific meaning.
- Search more thoroughly to comprehend specific information.
- Read receptively for thorough comprehension of the document.
- Read critically for evaluation of the document.
Knowing what potential readers want and how they read to meet their goals will help you design the layout and structure report contents to ensure maximum readability and usefulness.
Visual design and text arrangement are also important in writing reports. Several visual rules must be followed:
- Don't be afraid of white space.
- Leave adequate margins.
- Start sections on new pages.
- Do not place headings on a page without some accompanying narrative.
- Crowded text and graphics make the document difficult to read and may obscure important information (How Project Managers Write Useful Reports 2019).
Report Content Format
These elements are critical to the format of a BRE community report.
1. Cover Page
The cover page provides information on the public entities and organizations engaged in the effort:
- Main City
- Organizational logo
It also includes text that highlights the authors and organizations that support or sponsor the BRE effort.
- Prepared by: Author(s), Title(s), Organization(s)
- Support for this program provided by: City/County/State and other sponsoring organizations
2. Logos of Participating Entities
The second page is recommended for displaying the logos of all partner organizations and including any acknowledgements.
3. Table of Contents
All sections and subsections of the final report should be listed in the table of contents to provide ease of access to readers. Report authors should make sure that all sections are matched to the appropriate page number. A list of appendices, tables, charts, and figures should also be included.
4. Executive Summary
An executive summary is a thorough overview of a report or other type of document. It synthesizes key points for its readers, saving them time and preparing them to understand the report's overall content. The executive summary should:
- Restate the purpose of the report.
- Highlight the major points.
- Describe the report’s results, conclusions, or recommendations. (Writing an Effective Summary 2021).
Executive summaries are frequently read in place of the main document, so spell out all uncommon symbols, acronyms, or other terminology. In most documents, the executive summary is the first section of the document appearing after the table of contents and before the introduction.
5. Introduction of BRE Program
The main difference between the executive summary and the introduction is their purpose. The introduction is like the first 10 minutes of a movie in which you find out what the story is going to be about. The executive summary, on the other hand, is the entire movie script, condensed to a few short paragraphs (Hill 2018). The introduction should be used to illustrate the goals of the program, provide a concise review of the body of the report, and describe what the BRE program is about.
6. BRE Program Objectives
Program objectives specify how program goals will be achieved and should include a method for evaluating results. While program goals should clearly state the intentions of a program, the objectives should describe the mechanisms and strategies used to accomplish those intentions.
The objectives of the City of Anywhere’s BRE Program are to:
- Identify and address concerns and issues of existing businesses by creating a value-chain of partners, including local and state government as well as private organizations and enterprises.
- Identify opportunities to stimulate local job growth.
- Communicate with local business community about potential funding sources.
- Establish and maintain an ongoing economic development partnership that develops and fosters long-term positive/productive relationships among public and private entities in Anywhere, Ohio.
7. BRE Program Outcomes
Program outcomes represent broad statements that incorporate many areas of interrelated knowledge and skills developed over the duration of the program. They represent the big picture, describe broad aspects of behavior, and encompass multiple learning experiences.
The expected outcomes of this effort are to:
Understand the current state of the City of Anywhere’s businesses.
- Help provide timely financial information.
- Improve services.
- Grow existing businesses.
- Enhance organizational visibility.
- Retain and improve the quality of life in the community.
8. BRE Program Methods
This section provides a short description of the methods your program used to accomplish the objectives and outcomes of the BRE program.
In 2020, the City of Anywhere surveyed approximately 70 existing businesses about their perceptions, plans, and concerns. A partnership was established with the Ohio State University Extension BRE Program. Qualtrics software was utilized for survey analysis along with other BRE tools to assist in building an effective local program. The local BRE program was sponsored by the City of Anywhere’s administration and key stakeholders who assisted in surveying the business community to gain an understanding of how to improve city services.
9. Community Demographics (City, County, or State-Wide)
Socio-economic data should be compiled to compare the local community’s position with similar communities or even statewide averages. Changes in community population composition have important implications for local development strategies. When studied in the context of national and regional economies, community demographic data is relevant particularly when seeking assistance from state and federal agencies for economic development (Morse, Gillis, and Otto 1990b, 93–130).
10. BRE Survey Highlights (Short Informational Snippets that Present Highlights of the BRE Survey)
Sort responses by sectors/characteristics:
- Location (city, home-based, downtown)
Sums, averages, and percentages are the most informative ways to present data:
- Companies spent a total of $650,000 on training last year.
- The average retail company responding has four employees.
- Sixty-three percent of respondents said they had difficulty getting city permits.
Focus on highlighting major findings and emphasize the positive.
Visual Data Presentation
How data is presented matters, especially when aiming to inform a general audience (Grimwade 2019). Effective data accounts for the target audience—how much the audience may already know about the local community and how the data should be presented in the final BRE report. It is challenging to share stories in ways others can interpret and understand (Rome et al. 2020). Utilize narratives with the data if necessary. Consider using charts, infographics, or other visuals to present data as another option but be aware of the pitfalls inherent in a “design conquers all” way of thinking. Respect the data and tell the story within it (Grimwade 2019).
Example of a Survey Result Statement
About a third of the firms surveyed are considering renovation or expansion. Of those companies, only one does not have sufficient property. Financing is the most frequent constraint (cited by 40%). Three companies from the retail and services sector indicated they would be selling, moving, or closing; one was selling due to retirement, another was moving due to expiration of a lease, and the third was closing because of supply chain issues. None of the manufacturing firms planned to close, move, or sell, but did anticipate that increased global competition would impact hiring.
Communicate a wide spectrum of issues related to business investment:
- How many businesses and what percentage of survey respondents will modernize or expand their facilities?
- How many net new jobs are being created in the next three years?
- Do companies plan to move or make any other major change?
Look at results in the context of overall community development:
- Expansions and increases in numbers of employees.
- Education and types of training needed.
- Potential types of industries to attract.
- Locally tied purchases.
List comments that occur frequently from businesses. Identify opportunities or potential problems and showcase hot button local issues:
- Identify training needs.
- List logistical or traffic issues.
- Recognize community or service issues (roads, snow removal, etc.).
- Present possible impacts to quality of life (school, hospital, downtown).
- List competitive advantages offered by companies (use testimonials).
List Issues that Emerge
- A master development plan for the city/county is needed to coordinate and lead planning/development activities.
- Infrastructure for future commercial and industrial development—including water, sewer, and streets—is inadequate.
- Better collaboration between governmental entities and public/private organizations is needed.
- Low-to-moderate income housing isn’t meeting community demand.
- Professionals for four-year occupations, specifically IT and medical, need to be recruited.
- Better communication with the public on economic development activities is a priority.
11. BRE Action Plan
An action plan that presents the BRE program’s next steps is centered around the review of the program by the local BRE coordinator and the task force. Simply put, this involves a course of actionable items identified by participating businesses in the local community’s BRE survey.
An action plan’s steps may include:
- Building a cluster development plan to attract value-added business in advanced manufacturing, plastics, agriculture, and energy technology.
- Establishing a local technology team to develop a network for technology-related businesses.
- Accelerating retail retention and attraction efforts in the downtown area to build on current strengths and increase pedestrian traffic.
- Strengthening one-stop system to remove barriers for small business development.
12. Appendix A: Survey Results
Break appendix A into sections that present the survey’s questions and results.
Local Business Environment:
- What is your opinion of Anywhere, OH as a place to do business?
- A graph (bar, line, pie, etc.) shows results collected through the survey.
13. Appendix B
This appendix presents aggregated survey responses (do not report individual businesses).
The final community report is a critical component of a successful BRE program. It represents a composite picture of the community’s problems and strengths, its economic outlook, suggested recommendations, a justification for future economic development efforts and a motivation for future volunteers (Morse, Gillis, and Otto 1990b,.93). A consistent format with clear, concise writing will improve the overall quality of the report for its readers. When presented in this manner, the final report will be able to provide a factual story of the local community’s economy.
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Morse, George. W., William Gillis, and Daniel Otto. 1990b. “The R&E Report and Survey as Learning Tools.”. In The Retention and Expansion of Existing Businesses: Theory and Practice in Business Visitation Programs, 93–130. Iowa State University Press.
Rome, Clea, Debra Hansen, Rebecca Sero, and Lorie Higgins. 2020. “Using Data Visualization to Demonstrate Outcomes—Examples From Ripple Effects Mapping.” Journal of Extension Volume 58, Number 6. archives.joe.org/joe/2020december/iw3.php.
Stewart, Gwen, and Joe Lucente. 2021. “Utilizing Secondary Data for Business Retention and Expansion Planning and Reporting” (CDFS-1580). Ohioline, The Ohio State University. ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/cdfs-1580.
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