By the Numbers: BusinessFirst! Commemorates 20th Anniversary

22 Feb 2021

by Erik Collins


Securing a new site within your community, winning a growth-driven project or providing resources to community partners. These are just a few examples of how economic development professionals measure success.

While our BusinessFirst! partners work towards these goals day in and day out, we’re also driven to see local businesses grow and be successful. It’s for this very reason that we founded BusinessFirst! for a Greater Dayton Region in 2001 and built the program through collaboration, teamwork and impact.

The BusinessFirst! program began 20 years ago based on the idea of streamlining and coordinating business retention and expansion visits across the region. The majority of business investment and new jobs come from the businesses that are already in our communities. By pooling our collective economic development expertise and connecting businesses to regional resource partners, we can see tangible results.   

A customer-focused retention and expansion program, BusinessFirst! membership includes about 30 jurisdictions from Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Preble counties. BusinessFirst! was designed to let each jurisdiction determine how the program can fit their individual needs.

We’ve witnessed these organizations work together over the past 20 years to provide business owners a single point of contact for assistance from local, regional, state and federal agencies. Now in its 20th year, we’re taking a closer look at how the nationally recognized, BusinessFirst! program has evolved and positively impacted the Dayton Region.


Going to the Source

One-on-one conversations with small business owners and local entrepreneurs drive connections. We see this in our data and personal experiences during times of economic or community hardship. Personal conversation is the most effective way to provide helpful resources to help owners overcome challenges. The same can be said for when our businesses are thriving, or when we are attracting new business to the area. 

With over 100 regional Resource Providers to act on a business’ needs, jurisdictions have the knowledge to make the right connections to solve problems. Building relationships reinforces the fact that BusinessFirst! communities are the best way to connect with resource providers.

In the last five years, our teams have worked to reach the following:

  • 3,121 business retention and expansion visits
  • 210 businesses during business walks throughout the five counties

Our efforts during this time have included:

  • 17 business roundtable discussions
  • 30 business retention and expansion visits in Japan

Not only are these numbers impressive for the number of industries and organizations served, but these initiatives were also completed in the midst of tornado recovery in 2019 and the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. This program has proven resilient and will continue to impact businesses no matter what the future holds.


Propelling Our Business Climate

We’ve surveyed our constituents over the years to truly understand their thoughts and opinions about the business climate in our region — and how our work through BusinessFirst! can meet their needs. Over the last five years, we’ve found that 83% of companies in the region feel the business climate is either good or excellent, and that about 200 companies have expanded.

While we are happy with the program’s past accomplishments, there is always room for continuous improvement.  The BusinessFirst! Executive Committee is always looking for opportunities to add value to our region’s business community, whether that is through our 2017 Labor Availability Study, the 2019 Global Dayton Report, or the introduction of the BusinessFirst! Relocation program in 2016. 

The idea to formally establish a Relocation Program came from a BusinessFirst! roundtable with business executives. Attracting talent is a major challenge for employers. Developed with the help of Dayton Area Board of Realtors, one of our many resource partners, participants receive regional tours customized to their interests, for a small fee. This program has been well received by the professional community as it assists companies in attracting highly skilled candidates and fuels economic prosperity and workforce development efforts throughout the region.


Adding Value to the Business Community

This program would not be what it is today without the numerous resources available to businesses and organizations across our five-county collective. From partners who can kickstart a business to international statistics provided to fuel growth across the globe, we’ve continued to build our deep well of tools to meet the needs of Dayton area businesses.

As we look forward to the next 20 years, BusinessFirst! will continue to place the needs of our small businesses and local entrepreneurs at the forefront and find new, innovative ways to engage, connect and encourage the growth of the greater Dayton region.