We recently had the pleasure to interview Lalaina Alvarez, the Business Retention and Expansion Specialist for Celina, Texas, the fastest growing city in North Texas for three years in a row. Continue reading to learn more about why Lalaina moved to Celina for her career, initiatives her team is working on to help existing and new businesses, and why Bludot was the solution for their growing community.
Tell us about Celina and how long have you been there:
Celina is located north of Dallas and has a population of over 20,000 people. We have been ranked the fastest growing city in North Texas for three years in a row now! I’ve been with the city and part of the community for about a year and a half, so I’m new and still learning. There's so much opportunity to learn with the city as there are countless opportunities with the growth in the area.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your role and what attracted you to Celina: I recently moved into the role of Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) Specialist, which focuses on working with the current businesses in town to make sure we’re keeping and maintaining relationships as we grow. Prior to that, I was the Economic Development Coordinator for the EDC, and before that I was a Management Assistant for the city. This shows how much professional opportunity there is in Celina. I moved here because of this opportunity and have already seen how quickly I can expand my skill set in public service.
It's amazing that Celina is the fastest growing city in North Texas! Could you share more about what initiatives have been successful for your department and the city? How has your relationship with business owners changed?
My main role is to formalize our business retention efforts at the Celina EDC. To start this, we’ve organized a Business Appreciation Program in town to thank businesses for being here and for the service they provide. The “thank you” provided by the EDC as a part of this program is either a flower arrangement or batch of fresh cookies. The EDC has also started a Business Connection Video Series. This series consists of two to three minute videos that describe individual businesses in Celina. The videos are included on our website and in the monthly city newsletter. These have been a great source of free advertisement for businesses to use. Additionally, quarterly merchant meetings are held by the EDC to bring business owners and staff together to talk about city updates, pertinent information to business and operations, and answer questions business owners might have for the EDC. We also work with the Chamber a lot and help businesses understand the benefit of Chamber membership.
We just started a shop local campaign this past holiday season. Our residents are passionate about shopping local in Celina, so we are reinforcing existing efforts started within the community with this campaign. We’re going to use Bludot Open this year to help promote this initiative, as the public directory will only have businesses listed within Celina. We want someone looking for roofing or fencing work, for example, to search Bludot Open to find a local business owner to work with. We know this is a resource for residents, but we also see it as a great resource for business owners, especially those that don’t have a digital presence. We are providing this free digital platform for them and hope they will
encourage their customers to use the directory as well. There are a lot of different things we’re working on to formalize our efforts, on top of individual business meetings!
Coupled with those initiatives that you’re working on, what goals were you hoping to achieve with implementing Bludot as a solution?
As we began the initiatives above, we didn’t have a place to track business contact information or interactions with businesses. We were already reaching out and checking in with businesses but did not have an efficient way to track engagements. When we were looking for a solution, we wanted to encompass all of our interactions with businesses but also track how we’re checking in and what we’re doing. Efforts made during COVID by the EDC Executive Director, Alexis Jackson, and Director of Business & Government Affairs, Corbett Howard, also highlighted a need for a software to formalize a BRE program.
So going through that software selection process, why was Bludot chosen?
Our Executive Director had heard about Bludot and asked me to set up a meeting with the Bludot team. Once we met with Sophia and heard about all the included features that directly met our need for an affordable cost, we were sold!
I know that you’re using Bludot Open and our CRM internal business retention tool. I noticed you’ve already added Bludot Open to the city website and that you’re going to be working on expanding and promoting that in the upcoming year. I would love to hear more about using both tools.
We’re hoping to use Open as a resource for our residents to shop local in Celina. Our goal with promoting it to residents is to highlight the benefit of using our directory to exclusively support Celina business. The public platform also has the added benefit of showing all home-based businesses within our city, something not easily found on Google.
Within your first year using Bludot, I would love to hear about how it’s helped your staff and businesses so far.
It’s been a great tool, especially in formally building out our BRE program. The business profiles are extremely helpful. Contact information and related data for a business is all updated easily in one place. When I meet with a business owner I can log a meeting and related notes during or immediately following a discussion in Bludot on any electronic device. Using the group email feature has also been great to get communications out quicky to all businesses and saved time digging through spreadsheets.
Our businesses see Open as a great resource to have a place to put information for their business online and make sure that Celina residents are seeing their business, not getting lost in a Google search. It’s a great first step for businesses who don’t have websites yet as well.
I’d love to hear more about how you collaborate with the Chamber staff, since they also have access to Bludot as well.
We’ve made a label to indicate which businesses are Chamber members in Bludot Open. This allows businesses and residents to see a directory of current Chamber Members located in Celina. This showcases the partnership between the Chamber and Celina EDC.
I know we’ve talked a lot about the growth of Celina and how busy you are in your role. I'd love for you to share some tips on what you’ve seen to be successful as you create and expand your Business Retention and Expansion program. It is important to account for the needs of people who have been in Celina forever along with those who are just moving into our community. We want to make sure we consistently show the resources we have available and that we haven’t forgotten about the businesses who laid the groundwork for growth. We understand that the business community we have is important and that it’s not always about the next big thing. It is just as important to sustain and build relationships with existing business owners. We try our best to check-in and follow up so that businesses know we’re in their corner.
Looking forward to the rest of 2022, what initiatives will your department and city be working on?
Launching Bludot Open into the community as a resource is a large goal for this year. We also want to foster a partnership with the new Collin College campus that recently opened in our community, specifically focusing on workforce needs in Celina. We’re additionally hoping to work with Celina ISD and our partners at Workforce Solutions of North Central Texas to further address workforce needs.