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Business Retention and Expansion

Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) is a structured program to keep existing employers in the region and help them grow. Access to capital, tax incentives, addressing workforce needs and plain old case work are all part of the BRE process.

The first key to successful BRE is knowing your customer base. Questions to ask include:
  • Which businesses are you serving?
    • Sector (manufacturing, tourism, business services, etc.)
    • Primary job creators
    • Size
    • Stage (1-4) Edward Lowe Foundation criteria
    • Chamber Member or Non-member
    • Resident vs. Non-resident (local ownership vs. non-local)
  • Who are your targets? (create criteria for developing a target list)
  • Which businesses have never been touched before? (might want to start with them)
A BRE program also needs defined measures of success. Some common metrics are:
  • Added jobs
  • Added capital
  • Bottom-line growth
  • Development of industry clusters
Things to Keep in Mind about BRE:
  • Confidentiality is critical, both in the process and to gain trust
  • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver…we’re not necessarily the “experts,” but we are great “connectors”
  • Be open-minded to the potential of businesses – you’ll be surprised by which companies have some of the greatest growth opportunities (our little motorcycle/ATV retailer who now has a global parts distribution business)
  • Get an early victory…and PUBLICIZE IT!
  • The PR component is very important…consistently tout your successes
  • There is value and power in the One-to-One meeting…take the time…and don’t feel like you have to go in with a gaggle of board members and elected officials…that might come later
  • Be prepared to listen
  • The business determines your work agenda
    • You aren’t there selling a pretty, pre-packaged item
    • You don’t really “know” what the business is/does prior to the meeting
    • This is not a one-time project…not a survey or a checklist
    • Don’t lose focus or let others muddy the water of your work agenda (elected officials)
  • You have to be geographically, economically, and politically savvy (know the connections and don’t fake what you don’t know…trust is paramount!)
  • There should be a fluid relationship between new business attraction and BRE. Once a business is attracted and takes root, they are immediately a BRE client
  • Common threads run throughout businesses. Look for them and alter your agenda to offer new resources, like local government assistance or sector specific roundtable discussions
  • Your #1 goal should not be to grow membership via BRE; it should be to grow the economy…do a good job helping the company and the membership will follow
  • Retention is as important as expansion
Neccessary resources for a successful BRE program include:
  • Dedicated staff person with the following traits:
    • good understanding of business principles
    • a listener and connector
    • aggressive problem solver
    • initiative to follow up and deliver
    • support from other staff, co-workers, intern, etc.
  • Knowledge of the following (you’ll have to educate the businesses on these):
    • State incentives
    • Business support programs and organizations (SBDC, SCORE, service providers, banks, accountants, etc.)
    • Government agencies
    • Elected officials
    • Funding sources
  • Have a “leave behind document,” marketing piece, direction, etc.
  • CRM system for tracking and follow up
  • Business database – several exist, like D & B, Ref USA, Manufacturer’s News
  • Strong relationship with the property database manager (usually your local ED organization)…land and building needs frequently come up
What BRE Isn't:
  • It’s not a statistics gathering mission
  • It’s not a survey
  • It’s not a one-time event
  • It’s not a visit from the mayor
  • It’s not a solicitation for membership, chamber membership could come later
Chambers of commerce have advantages to conducting BRE:
  • Knowledge of geography (urban, suburban, rural, border state, etc.)
  • Knowledge of local businesses
  • Knowledge of local and regional economy
  • Working relationship with local government
  • Understanding of available incentives
  • Ability to lobby for business concerns and have a voice on infrastructure needs
  • Most importantly: Strategic business relationships and ability to make connections

Examples

  • In September 2017 the Metro Atlanta Chamber launched Backed by ATL, a program focused on providing advanced-stage startups with the resources they need to continue to grow and create jobs. The first cohort of seven companies will receive tailored support in investor engagement, talent attraction, marketing, sales and more.

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Last updated: 11/20/2017

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