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  • Matt Moloney

4 ways to jumpstart your economic development department

Economic developers have the incredible task of helping build up your local businesses, workforce development and engage with your community.

It’s a big task, so, in this blog we’ll dive into 4 ways to jumpstart your economic development department—no matter how big or small.

An interactive business directory is a great to for any economic development department

First up, the business directory. A business directory is a list of all the businesses in your community and should include important information that informs a city’s workforce development and revenue planning such as NAICS code, age, revenue and number of employees. Most likely, your city doesn’t have one as many cities don’t. That’s okay—let’s build one now.

  1. To build this directory, you’ll want to implement a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. You can create a simple one using a spreadsheet or you can use a CRM built for economic development departments. If you’re building it on your own, you’ll want to decide first what information is important to collect and track

  2. To fill in your CRM, collaborate with your Chamber of Commerce, Downtown and Neighborhood Organizations and Business License Department if applicable, to gather any lists of businesses they may have accumulated throughout the years. Add these businesses to your CRM and also ask them to highlight their top five businesses. 

  3. Using this list of businesses, identify the top 20 businesses. Then, talk to them. It’s important to talk with your top employers to understand what it is like to do business in your town. You’ll want to ask questions such as, “How is doing business here? How can we make things easier for you? And how can we be helpful?”. Listening to the employers directly will give you the best insight on how to help them grow.

Business Directory - Economic Development Department

Now that you have your Business Directory and have spoken to your top employers, it’s time to engage your workforce.

Jumpstart your workforce development

Although workforce development can be a daunting task for any city, it’s easy to get started. Here are a few ways to engage with your city’s workforce at the onset. 

  1. Host a job fair: A job fair is where recruiters and local employers meet with potential candidates and share more information about their companies. It is a great way to build community among your employers and bring together the local workforce. As a new department, it can also be a great way to remain visible in your community and reinforce your commitment to helping local businesses grow.

  2. Reach out to your local universities, community colleges and trade schools: These institutions are crucial to training and educating the next workforce in your community. As an economic development department, you can be a key liaison to connecting these students with jobs and help keep talent local.

  3. Create a public-facing job board: Once you’ve created relationships with the local talent and employers, you can encourage both to apply for and list jobs on an open and public facing directory, like Bludot's Business Directory. This directory allows cities to create a public-facing list of businesses that call your community home—and they can list jobs, creating a way for them to find talent all year round.

Collaborating with your community organizations

If you are the city’s first economic development department, most likely there have been other organizations and agencies who have been engaged in this work before. That means you have other people who can help!

As mentioned earlier, continue to collaborate with your local Chamber of Commerce and Downtown and Neighborhood Organizations to engage with your community. Work with them to host events, develop resources, and create a strong platform for business attraction. They most likely have been engaged with many of the businesses before and can facilitate helpful introductions as you start to build those relationships. 

Building a strategic plan

Another critical phase of this is to create and executive on a strategic plan. This plan can include different projects and milestones, depending on your community's goals. However, here are a few ideas that we often see.

CRM - Economic Development Department

  • Goal: Start tracking your local economy’s key metrics. It’s important to track the work it takes for business retention and attraction, in order to support your strategic goals, grants and reporting. These key metrics can also share insights about the local workforce, to attract new businesses to your area. Bludot's CRM makes it easy with its project management tools

  • Goal: Create an ideal number of businesses to speak with or visit each quarter. Create a way to follow up and track these visits, so you know who to engage with and when

  • Goal: Continue your collaboration with the city by promoting your local businesses through restaurant weeks, summer celebrations, or a shop local program like Open Rewards

  • Goal: Publish a public-facing business directory

  • Goal: Schedule a demo with Bludot. Bludot is the leading business retention and economic development platform and can help share insights from the 100+ cities that they work with


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