From the desk of Regina Lindsey (February 2017)
Very early in my career, I learned a valuable lesson: Focusing on existing businesses is critical to a healthy economy.
In industry terms, this type of program is called Business, Retention and Expansion (BRE). BRE involves collecting data from businesses in an attempt to identify companies that might be expanding or considering leaving. In theory, this allows economic developers to bring resources to the table and either “save” the business for the community or facilitate an expansion. My lesson occurred in my first economic development position. One of our major stakeholders had purchased a license to a BRE software program and was asking community economic development professionals to interview decision makers within their local industry. I felt I was obliged to do so because of the importance of our relationship with the stakeholder. However, I will admit, I half-heartedly went about the task. I was in a small community where I knew everyone. If someone were thinking of leaving, I would know about it, right? Wrong. My very first interview was with a company that had been in the community for decades; it had provided jobs for multiple generations. When we came to the question, “Have you ever considered leaving?” there was a pause. Come to find out there was an incentive offer on the table for the business to move to another Texas location. Fortunately, we were able to mitigate the issues and did save the business. It has gone through some expansions since, and to this day, continues to be an asset to that community.
It can be easy for economic development professionals to get carried away with attracting businesses, particularly when prospects are knocking down your door, as in the current climate in Southeast Texas. This paradigm happens for a number of reasons. First, the media often respond more enthusiastically to a press release to new businesses entering the market than a story on a local business adding what seems like a “handful” of jobs. Secondly, this is a time-consuming program, and most economic development entities have limited resources to commit to the effort. However, it’s worthwhile to have a program because, depending on the source cited, 70-80 percent of new jobs are created by existing businesses. In addition to being the source of most jobs, visiting local businesses is important for a variety of other reasons:
• It allows us to say thank you for selecting Southeast Texas as home to your business. A simple “thank you” may seem small, but in a time when complaints are easily spread through social media, a thank you is always appreciated.
• Through these interviews, you can often begin to identify trends and, to some degree, make predictions about the overall health of the region’s economy. About six months before the 2009 recession, these visits allowed us to see there were definite signs of nervousness in the business world. It can give you an opportunity to position yourself before an economic crisis.
I am proud to announce our Advancing Business Development Division Chair Ann Scoggin with Coldwell Banker Southern Homes has embraced this point of our new strategic plan and program of work, and we are moving forward with developing a program under our economic development efforts. To that end, Toby Stephens, who worked for me in Houston, made a presentation to our Advancing Business Development Division and interested members of our Diplomat program. Toby was responsible for starting a BRE program in Greenspoint and was successful in assisting businesses in creating 136 assistance projects and 50 retention/expansion projects through 80 visits. Toby discussed the different models for a BRE program and how to select the best one for your community as well as the lessons he learned while developing the Greenspoint program.
We have elected to move forward with a two-part program. Initially, we will send a short survey out to businesses and use this data to develop a plan for on-site visits. Site visits will be conducted by a combination of staff and volunteers. I use this space to introduce this concept to our local businesses for the following reasons:
• Awareness – the initial survey is critical for the foundation of the program. We promise to make it short. So, if you receive it in your inbox, please take the time to respond. I am as guilty as the next of ignoring surveys. However, this step is critical, and your assistance is greatly appreciated.
• Volunteer opportunity – If this is a program that sounds interesting to you and you would like to be part of the visiting team, please contact our office and we will add you to our list.
If you have any questions regarding the Greater Beaumont Chamber of Commerce, contact us at (409) 838-6581. We would love to help you!