There's a "Bear" in the business community
|Karl Kraync talks with Price business owner Bill Knott about the survey that is being used to gather information from businesses. So far about 190 businesses have been interviewed.|
One of the things most people that deal with economic development in eastern Utah have struggled with over the years is diversification of business. Many have felt that getting business to either start or relocate here that have little to do with the energy industry would be a good thing. Most agree that while energy is very important, other kinds of businesses would make the area healthier in the long run.
However, they all know that the core of business, are the ones that already exist too.
There are a lot of ways that a community can inspire and recruit business to an area. Some make more sense than others, and some are certainly more successful.
"When looking at economic development you can explore three avenues," according to Nick Tatton community director for Price city. "You can incubate new business, which tends to be cost and revenue intensive, you can recruit business to the area or you can retain and expand local existing business. Retention and expansion makes sense because the national trend shows that as much as 85 percent of new job creation is provided by existing businesses."
So how does a community set up a retention and expansion program? And why are they important?
Business retention and expansion programs assist businesses in an effort to:
Keep them from relocating to other areas.
Help them survive economic difficulties.
Assist them with expansions that add new jobs.
The programs focus on existing companies which form the local or regional economic base.
An International Economic Development Council (IEDC) survey conducted in 2000 found that business retention and expansion programs are ranked the number one primary mission in every region of the country with the exception of the Southeast.
Tatton attended a training seminar in 2005 given by the IEDC, which was the start that would grow into Castle Country Business Expansion and Retention (BEAR).
BEAR programs typically involve partnerships of the public, business and community leadership that continuously assess the existing industrial base and the physical, locational, financial, technological and resource needs of individual companies.
To initiate the project here in Castle Country, Tatton contacted Karl Kraync who had recently retired as director for eastern Utah region of vocational rehabilitation and asked him to head up the project. Kraync organized and got support letters from local economic entities and planning started in earnest last fall.
Funding for the program was secured through Ethan Migliori at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), with some additional funding provided by Carbon County Economic Development, Emery County Economic Development and Price city.
The funding was used to purchase database services from Executive Pulse and get the project going. The project committee consists of the Carbon County Economic Development, headed by Delynn Fielding; Emery County Economic Development, represented by Mike McCandless; the Utah Office of Vocational Rehabilitation job placement specialist Dorthy Carter; the SBDC's Ethan Migliorri; the Department of Workforce Service's Susan Etzel and Delena Fish; the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce's coordinator, Ann Evans; and the Carbon County Travel Region's Kathy Hanna-Smith.
In it's early stages of project planning the program consisted of lengthy discussions concerning the form and length of the survey the committee would use, how the survey would be used and what the project goals would be. The mission of the project is twofold.
First, a business is contacted and then interviewed and as the database grows the recorded information is used as a tool to determine the climate of the business community so that the project can more adequately plan economic development strategies.
Second, and more importantly, if the business interviewed is experiencing some difficulties, the database has an internal referral system designed to give the appropriate government entity information needed to expediently provide logistics, training, marketing or technical assistance to that business.
"The interview process is very important," stated Tatton.
Because there are around 1,500 businesses operating in Castle County the temptation is great to enlist various volunteer groups to get the businesses interviewed and the database populated in a timely fashion. The problem with this strategy is that the internal referral system requires good knowledge of the project goals in order to be utilized effectively.
Even in its infancy the project has seen success. The 190 businesses interviewed thus far have generated 23 internal referrals with 12 of those being closed successfully. This means that local businesses are getting the assistance in a personal and expedient fashion.
Additionally at a recent BEAR board meeting it was found that eight local businesses had shown declining sales over the last year. These businesses were discussed at length and action was taken to provide assistance that could improve their bottom line.
Training for business owners is a big part of the total package. In this direction BEAR has helped publicize the upcoming economic summit tht will be held in Emery County on Sept. 21 and 22, and also is organizing a cottage industries training seminar to be held for business owners in October.
The project recently received federal funding through the United States Department of Agriculture's rural business opportunity grant. The money will provide the project with paid professional consultants that will be able to populate the database and have a good knowledge of the referral system.
Also this money will go to further provide training to all those involved in the project.
"Things can really move forward now," said Tatton concerning the recent developments.
With money in hand and a dedicated committee the project is looking to see big results within the next six months.
The surveying of businesses will continue and the database will grow, giving the organization more and more information to work with. Eventually the principals hope to have information on every business in the area which will help them to determine which need help in succeeding in the ever more competitive marketplace. That is when the project will be the most effective.
"We care about the business owners in our community and will provide whatever service necessary to ensure their retention, expansion and overall success," concluded Kraync.