Creative Economic Development Strategies: A March Madness Case Study

Creative Economic Development Strategies: A March Madness Case Study Main Photo

25 Apr 2022


Economic Development Organizations (EDOs) function to grow their local economies, plain and simple. Organizations like Montgomery County Economic Development in the Dayton region of Ohio work to assist entrepreneurs in starting new businesses, help existing business owners grow and expand, and attract outside businesses to the area. 

Boiled down to basics, achieving these goals hinges on successful relationship building. Classic methods used by EDOs to build community connections include business and industry visits, business walks, roundtables, informational luncheons, and surveys. As a bonus, useful data can often be collected through these tried-and-true methods that helps to identify businesses’ needs and target resources.

While these tools are classics because they work, your EDO should also be thinking outside the box. Where businesses decide to stay or choose for relocation is a competitive endeavor and EDOs should embrace creative techniques and opportunities to deepen relationships. You should work to capitalize on what makes your region unique by using it to your advantage.

Montgomery County Economic Development has done this with March Madness — the NCAA’s Division I single-elimination women’s and men’s college basketball championship tournaments. The University of Dayton (UD) hosts The Big Hoopla NCAA First Four® — the opening round of the men’s tournament. UD Arena hosted the first-ever Opening Round game of the NCAA Tournament in March 2011 when March Madness expanded to 65 teams, and its hosting agreement with the NCAA has been extended once again until at least 2026.

The Big Hoopla has grown beyond basketball. It is a community-led initiative that provides a welcoming environment for visiting teams and encourages residents to participate in things like a 5K and Family Festival. There is a scholarship program and The Big Hoopla STEM Teacher of the Year.

All of this is to say that The Big Hoopla is unique, fun, and a great event to be a part of whether through attendance, volunteering, partnership, or all of the above. Montgomery County Economic Development is a sponsor and has a block of tickets it uses for business retention and expansion, as well as business attraction. 

“We reach out to companies we have worked with in the past year who are investing in the community and creating opportunities for residents,“ said Gwen Eberly, Manager, Montgomery County Economic Development and Planning. “It’s a great way to say ‘thank you’ to businesses who are the foundation of the community and are a big part of what makes our region great. The tickets are also a unique tool for attracting new businesses. This year we had an international company in town and we were able to give them an experience that they wouldn’t find anywhere but Dayton. It helps to build relationships and show what we can offer.”

While not every region or city has The Big Hoopla, you can search for and use events that represent what makes your corner of the world unique. Anything that pulls business relationships out of the meeting room with a side of relaxation and entertainment can give those connections the shot of growth they need to deepen and strengthen. Plus, everyone appreciates a show of gratitude for their worth and contributions.

Additionally, deepening relationships with local businesses can in essence convert them into ambassadors for attracting businesses by virtue of their success. They may also attract businesses to the region that are already their suppliers or customers. 

There is every benefit to be gained by expanding your economic development toolbox. With a dash of community awareness and creativity, business relationships can greatly benefit from moving outside the conference room.

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