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'Economic Gardening'

Sun Advocate publisher

For years Delynn Fielding, the economic development director for Carbon County, beat his head against a wall in trying to get businesses to locate in this area. Something almost always seemed to fall short.

"The one biggest factor seems to be that we are not on an interstate," said Fielding. "I always told them that if they looked at it, in many areas in the county there is only one stop sign between where they would locate and Denver or Los Angeles. Yet that seemed to be a big hangup."

Other kinds of things have gotten in the way too. Without huge investments, electrical infrastructure was lacking for some businesses and for others it was myriad other things.

Many said that Fielding had the most frustrating job in the county.

Then a few years ago, Nick Tatton, the community director for Price City, brought back an idea from a conference about how to grow businesses from within. It was called Business Expansion and Retention (BEAR).

Fielding, Tatton and others worked hard on what they saw as a possible way to not only bring new business into the area, but to help grow that which was already here. In the years since its inception it has been a great success. A number of new businesses have started successfully in the area. It has been such a hit that the state of Utah has taken the program and expanded it to many other counties. In fact it was one of the main topics of discussion during the Legislative Rural Day in January at the Capitol.

"BEAR has been basically a kindergarten and first grade level of business development," said Fielding last week during an interview. "We need to move to the next level now, kind of moving on to the upper grades."

Fielding says the next level is what is called Economic Gardening. The idea comes from the Edward Lowe Foundation which provides entrepreneurial support in terms of research and development into rethinking economic factors.

According to documents from the foundation, Economic Gardening's basic premise is to help existing companies in an area to grow in terms of production, services and create a positive economic impact on an area. Its idea is to "grow your own success stories."

Economic Gardening takes an entrepreneurial approach to job creation. Often referred to as a "home-grown" or "inside-out" strategy, that sounds relatively simple and is why many people believe they're practicing economic gardening, when they're not. Economic gardening differs from other economic-development strategies by its target audience, tools and timing.

The foundation says that economic development should be thought of as a triple play of activities.

First would come benefits for entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) such as the local BEAR program. By referring local companies into an economic gardening program, ESOs build greater trust because they're introducing clients to unique services that can't be obtained elsewhere. After participating in an economic gardening program, companies typically emerge more interested in programs available at the local level. What's more, ESOs that participate in an economic gardening network learn more about each other, which enables groups to avoid duplication of services, refine core strengths and refer clients to other groups when appropriate.

Second comes the benefits for second-stage chief executive officers of companies. Second-stagers are at a critical juncture as they transition businesses from small to large enterprises. They face new challenges that not only are tough to resolve, but difficult to even identify accurately. Participating in an economic gardening network allows them to stop working in their businesses, and step back so they can work on their businesses. Economic gardening helps CEOs build stronger teams, identify new markets and sharpen their competitive edge. In addition to technical services, economic-gardening programs often provide CEO forums, roundtables and other types of peer-learning activities that help second-stagers gain insights and improve leadership.

Third comes the benefits for communities involved in the program. Economic gardening helps establish an entrepreneurial culture within communities, which is critical to regional growth. Local businesses tend to have greater commitment to their regions and the most impact on sustainable job creation than companies with out-of-state headquarters. If they grow, the whole community benefits.

The key to making the program work is speed and insight. Businesses need to be engaged in real time as they are already on the move. Lengthy assessments of businesses at this stage of growth usually doesn't work because things are changing so rapidly within the business and sometimes in their market. ESOs form Strategic Research Teams that intercept the business at hand briefly and gain and understanding of the issues that need to be dealt with. Often with the growth of a business things go unnoticed by those right in the middle of it because they are so busy trying to make things run.

A Strategic Research Team (SRT) model would be used by the program and they would look at four key issues within a company they area assessing.

- The company's core strategy. The SRT would be dealing with changes in strategic direction, the business model and opportunity development.

- The market dynamics. Assessing the companies involvement in the unique relationship between the company, their customer and their industry.

- Marketing leads that are available. The SRT would help identifying and find markets and customers to match the company as its business evolves.

- Analyzing the companies management team. The SRT would advise on issues revolving around the changing role of the entrepreneur and their team as the company grows.

Probably one of the most important aspects of the SRT is that it must act, look and operate entrepreneurially by being relevant, responsive and adaptive. Companies in fast track growth have little interest, nor time, to look at consulting information that is overblown or slow to implement.

Any SRT formed will find each situation unique. This type of advisement is not a cookie cutter approach and the team must "catch up" with where the company is quickly if it is to be effective.

Presently programs like this are active in places like Indiana, Wyoming, Louisiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Arizona, and Ohio among other states.

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