Happy to help: Creating service-first local economic development
When developing your local economic development strategy, one size does not fit all. Some large cities are focused on managing new business development, while growing cities may focus on attracting new business for their expanding population.
The city of Southlake, Texas, takes a unique position on economic development, they are focused on supporting existing business through highly-engaged, detail-oriented business services. We spoke with Economic Development Specialist, Stephanie Bernard, about how and why they took this approach.
The city with the master plan
Southlake, TX, is a suburb of Dallas/Fort Worth, with a population of 31,000. In addition to having a high median income, Southlake is a master-planned community.
“Southlake is a master-planned community so everything that we do in all of our departments, including mine, is driven through our master plan that we're constantly updating and working from every five years.”
Even though their population is enthusiastic about the business community, business expansion is limited, due to their area having achieved a 93% build out—which leaves that last 7% up to their City Council to decide what should be added to the community. Stephanie’s role is a bit different from other Economic Development Specialists because she plays no role at all in bringing new companies to Southlake. Instead, she focuses exclusively on supporting the businesses that already exist in the community.
“There's a lot of steps involved in getting established in Southlake, not even mentioning the price dollar on the square footage compared to surrounding communities, so we really want people to feel like they have a service aspect once they are established here.”
Serving the community first is key to local economic development
To create a strong sense of customer service, Southlakes’ Economic Development department focuses on helping their existing businesses grow. Stephanie produces business spotlights by creating videos to showcase at City Council meetings, she writes articles about the business for their local publication, My Southlake News, and is a liaison between the department and the Chamber of Commerce.
“I also serve as the liaison between the Chamber of Commerce and the city of Southlake so I go to all their events and really just try and be an approachable face in case somebody has any questions or things like that.”
Listening to the business community directly is another key priority for the department. They conduct an annual business climate survey, which helps to drive their work for the year.
“ I think it does help business owners feel that their needs are getting answered.”
Business visits are another crucial piece of their business retention program—a program that they are actually going to try to utilize the help of some volunteers for.
Finding the tools to reflect the strategy
With a local economic development strategy focused on service, this needed to be reflected in the tools they use. Originally, Southlake contracted with a vendor to build their business database from the ground up. However..
“….the functionality of that was nothing compared to Bludot.”
Southlake soon discovered they needed a software that was as responsive as they are. They began working with Bludot, a CRM and project management tool designed specifically for economic development departments. Stephanie and her colleagues are able to track highly-specific information about each business through the customer relationship manager tool and use the “wall” feature on each business profile so they can act and track actions to better support the business.
The Bludot CRM also allows for easy information updating and approval. Not only can business owners enter in their own data via the Bludot Business Directory and then be approved by the city, but it also allows for interns to easily work in the database without tedious government onboarding and liability screening. In an industry where data changes frequently…
“The ability for someone to just be able to jump in there and make changes is huge.”
Southlakes’ Economic Development department prides themselves on being a department that business owners can rely on—and they found a tool they can rely on just as easily.
“The responsiveness of Bludot is incredible… It is so fast.”
An invaluable impact for local economic development
Taking notes from their master plan, Stephanie and the Economic Development team approach their work by identifying their goals first. And while their city is focused on intentional growth for now, their work in serving their business community does not go unnoticed.
“We do hear from business owners that they are kind of shocked that this service exists, like the Business Spotlight being free to them.”
Although other Texas cities have developed their own unique approach, Southlake has taken a service-first approach in creating the right goals and enlisting the right tools. With this, Southlake is able to help grow their city’s business community from the inside out.
To learn how Bludot can help your economic development efforts, please schedule a demonstration here.