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Economic Development is a Contact Sport

Posted on by Kevin Bielmeier

Economic Development is a Contact Sport

"We are Open for Business," words you often see when a municipality wants to reflect how business friendly they are. But these are just empty words if they are not backed by action. News travels fast among commercial realtors and developers if a community is not actually business friendly. The phrase time is money is an absolute truth in the world of commercial development. If a developer is concerned that their project is going to be delayed, blocked or flat-out denied, they will move on to the next town before even starting.

Economic Development is a Contact Sport

For those communities that truly seek to be open for business and grow the economy, thereby increasing the grand list and keeping taxes from rising, it is going to take walking the walk, not just talking the talk. You see, economic development is a contact sport. It is not achieved by sitting on the sidelines. It takes getting in the game. Grabbing the ball and moving it forward. In this competitive market, for a town, or state for that matter, to stand-out and differentiate itself from its neighbor, it requires more than an overused slogan. It takes good old-fashioned, pull-yourself-up-by-the-boot-strap, pound-the-pavement action with a capital A.

It also requires having some sense of knowing where you’re going; a clear economic vision and goal, a game plan. For many towns this is limited to their ten-year Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD). Some have gone further, crafting a strategic plan of economic development. Most of these well-laid plans, unfortunately, lay stacked in a municipal office closet collecting dust.

Am I suggesting tossing them out? Of course not. You need them to support grant requests and to revisit what the community valued, what it saw its strengths and weaknesses to be, and what they desired for its future… when it was written. Revisiting, revising and perhaps rewriting this plan is one of the action steps needed to move the ball forward.

Walk the Walk

But while you’re considering the past you need to get the pulse of the people who live in your community… now. This requires taking it to the streets. Those tasked with economic development in your town need to get out there and meet and talk with the business community, townspeople and those looking to do business in your town. The latter, to get a sense of how your town is viewed from the outside.

You can conduct a survey, with careful crafted questions, targeted at the information desired. The least personal approach is to use direct mail or e-mail. Calling is a bit more personal, but difficult in our age of constant voicemail. The in-person approach is by far the most personal and, therefore, the best.

This activity, often referred to as Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) is just one of the many foundational tasks toward sound economic development. But it is just that: an activity. It requires action and that, in and of itself, has value. Value for those conducting it, because they’re being utilized and not just convening once a month to discuss topics that they have little to no say in. Value for those being met and asked the questions, because it conveys that their opinion matters. Value also from the information gained. And finally, value because it reflects that the town is actively pursuing economic development (i.e., walking the walk).

Tackling the economic challenges that face our State is going to take each community willing to walk the walk to do so. Together, one town at a time, with one thoughtful development at a time, we can turn this economic ship around.

CERC can assist with your business retention and expansion efforts - contact us to learn more.