The Seneca Fortune 500 is a formal Business Retention & Expansion (BR&E) program that has the goal of reaching 500 Tiffin and rural Seneca County businesses using the INSIGHT approach to visits and salesforce.com as its BR&E software.
It is economic development initiative led by the Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership (TSEP), in collaboration with the Seneca Regional Chamber, Downtown Business Enhancement Committee, and in partnership with Seneca County JFS and COACT Associates.
What is Business Retention & Expansion?
Business Retention & Expansion (BR&E) – BR&E is one of the 12 strategic areas of activity of economic development as a practice. See the article on Economic Development for a detailed explanation of the three key meanings of the term economic development and a listing of the other 11 areas (e.g., Brownfields Redevelopment, Economic Development Marketing & Attraction, Workforce Development).
The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) describes BR&E this way: “Business retention, and fostering the expansion of existing businesses, is the foundation of any sound economic development program…” It involves “strategies to retain the existing economic base by making businesses and the communities that house them more competitive” by applying “a wide range of economic development resources, tools, and techniques to support local businesses through the creation of a successful business retention and expansion program.”
Core Components to BR&E
There are two primary components to doing BR&E: (1) resources, tools and techniques to support local businesses, which we call Resources, and (2) an intentional strategic effort to reach out to businesses to connect them to these resources, called a Program. Additionally, most BR&E Programs also contain (3) a heavy Research component that helps gauge business’s perception of the local business climate and can inform policy discussions and development, as well as marketing.
1. Resources – any programs, services, organizations, or initiatives that seeks to help local businesses grow and thereby stimulate the economy. In the IEDC definition of BR&E, they are referred to as “resources, tools, and techniques.” For Tiffin and rural Seneca County, we have identified more than 175 different resources, and contacts and organizations that administer or provide the resources are called Resource Partners. B&RE Resources fall into four general categories:
- Workforce Resources – The number one need of the majority of growing companies is finding, hiring, and retaining the people and talent they need. They do this through recruiting and training. There are currently about 50 resources in this category. These address the last H (Hire) and T (Train) questions of INSIGHT.
- Financing Resources – Resources to help a company get the financial resources they need and/or to get them at a lower cost. There are more than 50 resources in this category. These can assist if a company answers yes to the second I (Invest) of the INSIGHT questions.
- Real Estate Resources – Resources to help a company find and secure a business location that meets their needs. There are currently 56 resources in this category. These can assist if a company answers yes to the S (Space & Location) question of the INSIGHT list.
- Special Resources – A grouping of a diverse set of resources that can help a company do everything from grow sales domestically and internationally, to improve operations, to conducting more research and development. These can assist if a company looking to grow sales (G) and in other areas as well.
2. Program – A Business Retention & Expansion Program is the formal, intentional, strategic effort to reach out to existing businesses in a particular geographic area. It is the model for how to do the visits and/or surveys and what you do with the information you gain from that outreach.
The two common “intake” (i.e., information gathering) elements to almost all formal BR&E Programs are (1) Visits and/or (2) Surveys. Most successful BR&E programs involve both; some emphasize one or the other. Hence, a BR&E Program may be called a BR&E Visitation Program or a BR&E Survey. Ours uses both, but it does have an emphasis on visits. Once the information is gathered (via visits and/or surveys), it is then (3) recorded and tracked (often with BR&E Software), and than usually some form of (4) BR&E Follow-Up is takes place.
- Visits are when one or more volunteer working with a BR&E Program meets with a business and talks with them about the business. In our local B&RE Program (called INSIGHT), our visits are called “Calls.” Most visitation or visit-focused programs have a defined list of questions that are taken into the meetings (aka surveys).
- Surveys are the list of questions a BR&E Program asks a business. Some BR&E programs have actual paper or online surveys companies can fill out; some programs ask the questions in-person. Our local program has traditionally asked those questions in-person as part of an INSIGHT Call, but this year we have added the online survey instrument as well. See INSIGHT Questions for our survey.
3. Research – most BR&E programs incorporate a number of questions into their survey or visit questions that seek to gain insight not only into the company’s investment and job creation activity, but also into their perception of the local environment. The Ohio BR&E Program conducted by SIEDC in the late 1980s and 1990s had a long list of questions.
An example would be the following from the 1988 BR&E Survey: “24. What are the best features from the list below, of this community from a business and personal point of view? (circle up to four)
- good services (fire, health, etc.)
- good business environment
- community’s size
- excellent location/proximity
- scenic area
- good housing
- land availability
- favorable wage rates
- abundant labor
- good work ethic
- cost of living
- other (specify)“
Timing – Another important characteristic of BR&E Programs is their regularity and frequency, called the program timing. BR&E Programs can be intermittent (one-time) or ongoing.
- Intermittent programs are not ongoing and often not regularly scheduled. Visitation programs (BR&E Programs focused on visits) are more likely to be intermittent than survey-oriented programs. They can be repeated from time to time and operate often as a campaign, intense outreach over a limited period of time by a large group of volunteers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, SIEDC (TSEP’s former name) conducted a local version of the Ohio Business Retention and Expansion Program during a number of those years. These were discrete, intermittent “campaigns” that had a start and end point. They could be considered to be intermittent.
- Ongoing programs are continual efforts at outreach that do not have a defined start or end date. The BR&E Program in Tiffin and rural Seneca County (called INSIGHT) is currently ongoing. Previous to 2014, the program was intermittent . The outreach is tracked each calendar year, and goals are set for each calendar year, but the outreach never stops.
What is INSIGHT?
INSIGHT is the name of the annual Business Retention & Expansion program model we have for Tiffin and Seneca County. It was developed and has been refined by David Zak, TSEP President & CEO. The three most common and widespread programs are as follows:
- Executive Pulse
- OSU Extension
INSIGHT. It consists of the following four steps:
(1) developing the INSIGHT call list; (2) INSIGHT Partners making INSIGHT Calls; (3) information from INSIGHT Calls being recorded in our CRM system; and (4) referrals being made and assistance being provided.
- 1. Targeting – a number of companies to be called upon is determined in advance, and a list is created.
- BR&E Software –
- It consists of (1) Calls; (2) Reporting; (3) Referrals, and (4) Tracking. See definitions on each.
- the recording of that information in our CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system; and (3) the follow-up by any Resource brokers to determine if any resources can be brought to bear to assist.
- consists of “calls” (see INSIGHT calls), where a BR&E outreach volunteer visits with or connects with a business and has an intentional conversation involving several activities and purposes:
- Appreciation – businesses and business owners are not often thanked for the incredibly important contributions they make to the economy and quality of life. Without them, there are no jobs and other benefits (see economic development benefits). People participating in a Business Retention & Expansion effort act as ambassadors of the community, performing the role of thanking them for what they do.
- Understanding – Steven Covey’s Habit #5 is “Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood” is a good guiding principle. Part of the point of connecting with businesses is to understand better what they do and how they do it – their history, their products and services, their market, their competitive advantages, the things that make them unique and interesting. The other major thing to understand is how things are going in general from their perspective.
- Connection & Relationship – From the vantage point of Business Retention & Expansion, a B&RE (INSIGHT) call is done not just to check a box, to produce a report, or to
- Resources -, thank them for what they do (create and maintain jobs, invest, generate tax revenue, support other businesses), and identify resources that can help them grow and thrive. Business Retention & Expansion is an economic development initiative that focuses on existing business.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) –
- INSIGHT – INSIGHT is the name or “brand” we have been using at TSEP for our local Business Retention & Expansion efforts. It
- is also an acronym to help remember the key questions to ask when connecting with a business. See INSIGHT Questions.
- INSIGHT Questions –
- The Basics
- I – Introduce & Identify: Introduce yourself and explain what you are doing (doing a Chamber Ambassador call, doing a Downtown Business Enhancement INSIGHT call. Identify the business manager, owner, and/or the person with whom you are speaking. Get contact information.
- N – Number of Employees: How many employees does the business have at this location?
- Gathering Information (Research)
- S – Space & Location: Is the current business location and/or space working for them or might they need more or different space?
- I – Invest & Financing: Do you think you might need to invest in the business in the coming year? (equipment, real estate, R&D, working capital, training, process improvements)
- G – Grow: How has business been going? Are you looking to grow sales? If so, how? What are your goals for 2020? Do you sell to any government entities? Do you sell internationally?
- H – Hire: Do you think you might need to hire more employees in the next 12 months?
- T – Train: Do you think you might need to do some formal training for your employees in the next 12 months?
- The Basics
- Calls – When a BR&E volunteer connects with a local business intentionally and during the conversation asks any of the Business Retention & Expansion questions and then records that information (writes it down), they have completed an INSIGHT Call. It’s important to note that an INSIGHT Call does not have to be a formal interview and can take many forms – it can be a formal, in-person or virtual meeting; a text or phone conversation; a casual, informal chat and chance encounter; and/or email exchange. The specific questions asked in our B&RE program (INSIGHT) can be found under “INSIGHT Questions.”
- Project – As described in the first definition of Economic Development, a project is generally any business activity that involves the creation of jobs or investment into the business, or both. The primary purpose of Business Retention & Expansion activity is to identify projects, where resources can be identified and brought to bear to help to encourage and/or reduce the cost of doing those projects. Examples of generic, commonly occurring Business Retention & Expansion projects include:
- Hiring (alone) – a small business thinks they may need to hire
- Salesforce.com –
- Seneca Fortune 500 – The brand or “theme” for this year’s annual outreach under the INSIGHT umbrella is Seneca Fortune 500. The famous Fortune 500 list contains the names of 500 companies that represent 2/3 of the American economy and $14.2 trillion in revenue. The Seneca Fortune 500 represents that we seek to target (at least) and connect with the most important 500 companies of the 1400 that existing business establishments in Tiffin and rural Seneca County.
- (a BR&E volunteer outreach to businesses, resulting and conversations (See “Call”), which involves some type of survey