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You Say It, But....

Years ago during radio’s “Golden Age” there was a show called "The Bickerson’s”  (you can find it on Audible or You Tube) that starred Don Ameche (John) and Frances Langford (Blanche) as a middle-aged married couple arguing their way through daily life. At least once in every episode, either John or Blanche would say to the other the show’s noted catch phrase “You say it but you won’t do it!”. As I look at the state of economic development today, I find this phrase particularly truthful of one alleged pillar of many cities/regions strategies…that of business retention. 

“Economic development research shows that retaining and growing early-stage and existing businesses is the most effective way of supporting entrepreneurs and economic growth.” SOURCE: breguru.com

Practically every community strategic plan makes extensive mention of the importance, even the pre-eminence, of business retention as opposed to business attraction/recruitment. Yet despite several references to working with existing businesses, I more often hear Blanche or John exclaiming “You say it but you won’t do it!” when it comes to real retention activity. 

I have found this to be the case in dozens of communities and EDC’s I have met through speaking and teaching engagements. Lots of words on paper, statements on websites or promotional materials, but when you ask what staff is actually doing day in and day out I hear “We were going to do such and such…” or “the Chamber was supposed to set up…” and the very common “there just isn’t a lot of time left to do that and my Council (insert any stakeholder group) is all about recruitment”. If economic growth in your community is a priority and retention IS “the most effective way of supporting…economic growth” than should it not be job #1? 

In the second half of my nearly 40 year career in the field, business retention and expansion has been a passion of mine. In 2018, I hope to reignite that passion in my economic development colleagues through the work of my firm, A2B Consulting Group, as well as me personally. I am striving to raise interest in recapturing business retention as THE cornerstone of economic development, not just in words but in action. In future posts, I will highlight communities that are excelling in business retention efforts, along with sharing some of my thoughts on business retention fundamentals.  Please feel free to recommend your community for consideration in future posts by contacting me through our website, A2Bconsultinggroup.com.  

Let’s make 2018 the year we, as economic developers, get back to our roots of helping our communities establish strong economic foundations through the businesses that already call our communities home.

Randy Starbuck