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  • Matt Moloney

Driving local prosperity: 3 tips for business retention & expansion

This post originally appeared as part of Southern Economic Development Council (SEDC)'s November 2023 newsletter, co-authored by Dr. Alison Davis (Executive Director, CEDIK) and Matthew Moloney (Bludot). The original post can be found here.

Authors - 3 Tips for Business Retention & Expansion

A prominent theme during the 2023 SEDC Annual Conference was strengthening Business Retention & Expansion (BR&E) programs at both the city and county levels. BR&E programs come in many shapes and sizes, but all serve a critical role in creating an environment where businesses, employees and residents can thrive. National data suggests that the majority of new jobs are a result of existing business growth, thus capitalizing on the potential of your local economic base is critical to the success of your community.

If time and resources are limited in your organization, then streamlining your BR&E processes will be mission critical. The easiest way to achieve this is to be strategic in your planning and leverage all that technology has to offer. But be forewarned, both old and new technologies bring potential pitfalls.

Here are three tips to be mindful of for organizations starting a new BR&E program or for organizations looking to expand on their existing program:

  • Understand your organization’s goals, processes and willingness to adopt new technologies

  • Keep track of all your community’s businesses, engagements and key metrics in a CRM

  • Use all available tools to create an actionable and repeatable process for connecting to business owners

Understand your organization’s goals, processes and willingness to adopt new technologies

First things first: develop a plan based on the shared goals of the organization. High-level goals could include helping existing businesses grow, quickly aiding businesses that are struggling or facing closure and keeping businesses in your community from relocating.

Then, work your way forward and establish your organization’s key metrics—or how you plan to measure the success of your BR&E program. For example, organizations have measured the impact of their BR&E program in the following ways:

  • Number of strategies developed and implemented to improve at least one business

  • Number of businesses who have reported increased sales, foot traffic, reduced costs, etc.

  • Number of businesses saved (avoided closure) because the organization identified and rapidly addressed a red flag

Once you have goals established and the metrics identified to measure your success, you’ll need a way to keep track and report on them. This is where technology becomes a driving force for BR&E.

New technology can be cumbersome for some team members. You may want to focus on solutions that are easy to use or that are developed specifically for economic development teams. Prioritize vendors that have responsive customer service. Oftentimes, smaller companies or startups are very user-centered and will give in depth one-on-one attention to customers—even taking their feedback to directly shape updates in the product.


Keep track of all your community’s businesses, engagements and key metrics in a CRM

There are many Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems that allow organizations to keep track of businesses, contacts and engagements and generate reports to share internally.


Government organizations, especially economic development teams, are starkly different from most CRM users. Finding a CRM that is either configured for BR&E or built specifically for BR&E is a crucial step in this process.


Business Retention & Expansion CRM


Some frequently used CRMs for economic developers include:

  • Salesforce

  • HubSpot

  • Bludot

  • ExecutivePulse

  • EDC Forge

  • ProTrack Plus

Access to accurate data is crucial to meeting your organization’s goals. Instead of having valuable information live in email threads or with long-time staff, the right CRM can keep this information under one roof. This allows the same information to be disseminated across the entire organization, while also giving organizations the ability to house this key institutional knowledge during inevitable changes in staff.

To maintain this flow of information, it’s important to not only track things like business names, addresses, contacts, demographics, revenue and square footage, but also track communications for each business. A CRM built or configured specifically for BR&E will allow you to track unique interactions, such as business visits and walks, phone calls and emails, as well as creating surveys and logging responses.

Use all available tools to create an actionable and repeatable Business Retention & Expansion process for connecting to business owners

The most successful BR&E initiatives rely heavily on constant communication with business owners. Many organizations can fall into the “one and done” trap.

Engaging business owners, understanding their pain points and identifying what resources they need is an ongoing process. Every business—not just major employers—requires a level of care and consideration that cannot be achieved in one visit or conversation.

While business visits and walks are a core component of BR&E, facilitating other conversations with businesses is a great way to get your key community members together to share ideas, best practices and identify unique needs. These could include CEO roundtables or small business counsels and webinars—whatever gets and keeps the conversation going.

Keeping the conversation going is oftentimes where BR&E programs trail off. The constant follow-ups, emails, phone calls and visits can eat up the lion’s share of the already limited employee bandwidth. Consistency is key, though. It will take time, but developing the habit of connecting with businesses, logging the activity in your CRM, setting follow-up tasks and providing business owners with resources will build long-lasting and meaningful relationships in the community.

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