At The Heart of Economic Development: Business Retention and Expansion in 2020

17 Nov 2020


by Erik Collins


The year 2020 has featured pivoting projects, reprioritizing business goals and determining your organization’s key values to withstand any natural disaster, global health crisis or economic hardship. As economic developers, this year has only reinforced the importance of relationships — whether with businesses inside our communities or resource partners across the globe. 

The International Economic Development Council held its annual conference in October, taking the virtual stage for the first time in its history. I, alongside Laith Wardi of ExecutivePulse, William Murphy of Kansas Department of Commerce and Carolina Arriagada Peters of Cities and Collaboration in London, England, spoke to more than 250 attendees on the importance of leveraging business retention and expansion (BR&E) and successful tactics for attracting foreign direct investments. 

Below are highlights and takeaways from our engaging conversation.

Place BR&E at the Forefront

Business retention and expansion are at the heart of good economic development — and should therefore be a key component of your team’s strategy. 

There is no better time than the present to start forming relationships with businesses and organizations essential to the future success of your community. When done correctly, these connections can benefit ongoing workforce initiatives, foreign affairs and new programs that add value to those within your network. 

Ask the Right Questions

Whether you’re speaking to a company for the first time or the 100th, ask important questions to learn more about their overall business objectives. For example, check-in with executives and specialists for geographical information on where their customers are located and where products are sourced. This allows you to gain a better understanding of their reach and footprint.

Invite Everyone to the Table

Once you’ve had the informative conversations around expansion and retention opportunities, it’s time to connect the dots and strategize. Our team at Montgomery County Community and Economic Development, alongside members of our five-county BRE program, found roundtable discussions an extremely effective way to introduce foreign connections to companies within the region looking to expand. This not only brings everyone together to discuss opportunities for collaboration, but also showcases to businesses that you heard their needs — and plan to deliver on your promises.

For those looking to conduct trade missions outside of the United States, consider meeting with companies familiar to the country’s current business climate ahead of time to establish a relationship. Our delegation met with more than 30 existing Japanese companies to truly understand their mission, vision and values as well as how our team could be a resource to their growing business network.

Showcase Your Impact

Columbus. Pittsburgh. Dayton. What do all of these Midwestern cities have in common? A global report. 

Developing a comprehensive report to showcase your community’s international impact positions your region as not only a global partner, but dedicated to connecting businesses near and far. And, these insights will better prepare you for that upcoming pitch or thought leadership piece in need of eye-catching information. 

Make Meaningful, Helpful Connections

Last, but most certainly not least, serving these companies and their workforce through resource sharing and growth opportunities is pivotal to keeping businesses in your community. Whether this means introducing a new company to an international technology firm — a feature available to Dayton-area businesses through the Foreign Military Finance program — or launching soft-landing initiatives such as bank accounts and housing for employees, there are numerous ways you can serve as a trusted partner. 

Without relationships, resources and recommendations, your business retention and expansion efforts may fall flat. Always search for ways in which you can be a better partner. Your businesses, both domestic and international, will thank you.