Coordinating a Community-Led Business Retention and Expansion Program

CDFS-1564
Community Development
Date: 
03/08/2012
Joe Lucente, Assistant Professor and Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension and Ohio Sea Grant, Lucas County

Communities are better able to affect their existing business climate when they have a better 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 (BR&E) program. The various duties and tasks that are typical of a community-based BR&E program require coordination. As such, identifying a local BR&E coordinator can be helpful to ensuring program success. A local coordinator can lead the development and overall implementation of the program. A local coordinator can also engage a wide variety of local community stakeholders to seek solutions for businesses in need of financial or logistical assistance.

What does a BR&E coordinator do?

Local business issues are handled by the coordinator, who contacts organizations or professionals that can help solve a business problem (Morse, et al., 1987). It is recommended that the coordinator establish relationships with a variety of professionals in the local community in order to address business concerns. This can be accomplished by assembling a BR&E task force composed of a mix of community business leaders representing development, local government, education, religious and civic aspects, retired executives, and professionals. The BR&E task force can assist the coordinator in accomplishing the goals of the program while the coordinator or co-coordinators keep the BR&E task force on track.

What are the responsibilities of the BR&E coordinator?

The coordinator can serve as the driving force of the BR&E program by introducing and promoting the program to the community, coordinating task force meetings, and organizing immediate follow-up to any business concerns. The coordinator can also work with other community professionals by establishing a BR&E task force to develop business survey questions or review survey questions that have been used in other communities. Aside from leading the overall program and recruiting an effective task force, the responsibilities of the BR&E coordinator are multi-faceted and can include:

  • Introducing the BR&E program—This includes introducing the goals of the program to the community through such means as the local media, public meetings, and other informal communication networks. A variety of marketing strategies such as television news, print media, and a website about the local BR&E program and its benefits will enrich the overall results by serving as information resources.
  • Organizing and conducting meetings—A coordinator can ensure a smooth flow of information to allow for effective administration of a community BR&E program. The flow of information could include such activities as business sectors to be surveyed, the business questionnaire, business visitation schedules, communication of issues that are affecting businesses, opportunities for assistance through economic development programs, and opportunities for business partnerships. Other meetings that the coordinator might want to include in conjunction with the BR&E program are:
    • BR&E task force meetings—The coordinator could meet with the task force periodically for updates on the local business visitation program. The coordinator could also review business surveys and address any critical, red-flag issues. Red-flag issues consist of businesses that might seek to relocate outside of the local jurisdiction, workforce training needs, financial assistance, physical expansion needs, employee recruitment, logistical needs, infrastructure development, etc. Task force members can inform the coordinator of any problems even before a scheduled meeting of the group.
    • Action-planning and program assessment meetings—Action-planning meetings could be held to keep the program on track, check on reaching milestones, and review any information that might have been missed. These meetings could also provide the opportunity to describe what has been learned from the business surveys and what the appropriate responses could be. Specifically, the action plan could serve to show what needs to be done, who will complete it, and when it will be accomplished. The meetings could also be used as the basis for conducting a yearly assessment of the program to better gauge what works and what does not in the local BR&E program.
  • A new task force member meeting—If a BR&E program is ongoing, this type of meeting may be utilized. Typically, a continuous BR&E program is conducted annually for the continued improvement of the community and its businesses. Hence, new members are periodically needed to assist the coordinator with conducting the program when previous BR&E task force members can no longer serve due to other obligations. The new task force member meeting can ensure a smooth transition of outgoing task force members and newly recruited members by bringing them up to date with the program for continuous implementation.
  • A yearly BR&E summary to the community meeting—The coordinator might report program results back to the community on an annual basis during a town hall meeting to inform the public about the existing business climate. BR&E program accomplishments and plans for the future could be shared while illustrating a better understanding of the local economy.

Does our community need more than one BR&E coordinator?

This depends on the size of your community, number of business sectors being surveyed, and available resources. Typically, one dedicated professional is capable of this task. However, including another professional with economic development experience can lead to more effective program administration as program tasks can be divided between the two. The following examples show the types of professionals that could lead a community-led BR&E program as either coordinator or co-coordinator:

  • local 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 BR&E coordinator need any specific training?

A coordinator with economic development experience to lead the charge for a community-based BR&E program would be ideal; however, it is not necessary. An understanding of the business community and knowledge of the proper contacts necessary to assist businesses with opportunities or concerns as they arise is most important.

Conclusion

The importance of a local coordinator to the success of a community BR&E 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 BR&E 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.

Further Reading

Ohio Business Retention & Expansion Initiative. Welcome to the Ohio BR&E Initiative. Ohio State University Extension. 28 February 2012. localecon.osu.edu/BRnE.

References

Civittolo, D. (2010). Business Retention and Expansion Program, CDFS-1562-10. Ohio State University Extension. Columbus, Ohio: The Ohio State University. 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. 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. 

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