Local Businesses Need More Than Surveys - Blog

Local Businesses Need More Than Surveys

By Bill R. Shelton, CEcD

Traditionally most Business Expansion and Retention Programs (BR&E) start with a survey of local businesses to determine their problems, needs and opportunities.  While a survey of local businesses can be the initial starting point for a BR&E program, surveys often neither recognize nor embrace real opportunities to make significant expansion and business building activities. Here are three ways a community can be a more valuable partner to local businesses by providing a continuum of growth opportunities:

  • Help businesses to see opportunities they haven’t considered. The time demands of managing a business plus limited resources prevent many business owners and managers from actively engaging in exposure and promotional activities, such as local trade shows and fairs, resulting in missed business-to-business contacts and sales. During the course of conducting an inventory of local businesses’ services, products and capabilities, one community representative was able to bring together a local firm that had excess chrome plating capabilities with another local firm that was daily sending parts over 100 miles to be chrome plated. This was not only a cost effective solution but it also allowed both firms to increase employment in addition to demonstrating the community’s support of local businesses.
  • Point out opportunities the business is missing. Marketing and merchandising opportunities can be a positive way for communities to work hand and glove with local businesses by providing missed sales and leakage marketing data. One Midwestern city noted in an analysis of local buying habits that there was a strong propensity and demand for a specific brand of shaving lotion that was not available locally. Realizing this was a merchandising opportunity, one local retailer stocked this brand, which sold out the initial order in a week.
  • Refer them elsewhere, when necessary. Not every community has the resources to help businesses with all the complex issues or the capacity to point them in the right direction. Referring to knowledge resources for help and guidance is a responsible local government action. By networking and interfacing with business-solution providers such as universities and their extension services, consultants and state and federal development agencies, the community can become a resource for local businesses.

The average community derives up to 75% of its new jobs and capital investments from existing businesses. This fact alone is the basic rationale for an aggressive community BR&E program that achieves real-time retention and expansion goals.