Grunke Column: Campaign aims to understand needs of local businesses

Everyone loves ribbon cuttings and grand opening celebrations – outward signs of a community’s progress along the path of economic development.

But did you know that, depending on an area’s economic mix, 40 percent to 90 percent of new jobs come from existing businesses?

Whether we first meet a company as a start-up, or a new expansion into our community, ultimately all businesses become a business expansion effort, as I have never met a business that doesn’t want to grow. That’s why the Missoula Economic Partnership is embarking on a renewed Business Retention and Expansion, or BRE, campaign to better understand – and answer – the needs of local businesses.

To that end, we’ve invested considerable time and effort into developing a formal survey process that will measure the needs and goals of Missoula businesses.

But we need your help. What are your expansion plans for the next three years? What are your priorities in selecting a site for a new location? Do you have workforce recruitment needs? What is your overall impression of Missoula as a place to do business? And, most importantly, how can the Missoula Economic Partnership and our strategic partners make you feel valued?

To that end, we’ve prepared a detailed written questionnaire that will be distributed via email and supplemented with an in-person business visit. The survey will provide us with raw data and a big-picture look at Missoula-area business needs. The site visit will provide a stronger sense of your individual must-do, need-help-now lists.

We will begin scheduling site visits shortly after March 1, and will continue indefinitely. Business retention and expansion is an ongoing, and essential, part of our work at the Partnership.

What will we do with the information collected during this process? The written survey will help to inform our staff practices and policy advocacy moving forward.

We want to know more – specific stories from your business experience to understand the policies or practices that limit or enable Missoula businesses.

From our in-person site visits, we’ll gather the information needed for MEP to help business grow and prosper.

Let’s say your firm intends to add 15 net new jobs over the next two years. MEP staff members could potentially work with you to apply for Big Sky Trust Fund job creation grant money – assistance that directly helps your business achieve a goal that benefits our entire community.

We are excited to embark on this more formalized one-on-one outreach. It’s a straightforward proposition. Businesses that are nurtured and supported by their local communities are better able to thrive and expand. They are healthy. They aren’t subject to undue, preventable stresses.

One of the best articulations of the primacy of business retention and expansion I’ve seen came from the Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute, just north of the border at Selkirk College.

Here’s what their 2015 study, “Business Retention & Expansion: Best Practices & Regional Success” had to say:

“Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) is an action-oriented and community-based approach to business and economic development. It promotes job growth by helping communities to learn about the concerns of, as well as opportunities for, local businesses and to set priorities for projects to address those needs. Ultimately, communities will have greater success in attracting new businesses if existing businesses are content with local economic conditions and community support.”

What strikes me about this definition is that it encapsulates the ethos of a strong business retention and expansion strategy while addressing the shiny, visible side of economic development: business attraction. What better way to attract new businesses than by supporting and promoting our existing business community?

The result, every time, will be a vibrant and healthy economy.

James Grunke is president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership. This column originally appeared in the February 26, 2017 edition of the Missoulian’s InBusiness.


Missoula Economic Partnership | 2501 Catlin Street Suite 205 Missoula, Montana 59801 | P: 406.541.6461 | F: 406.541.6464