Grunke column: Most new jobs will come from existing local companies

When Missoula launched the Best Place Project in spring of 2010, a comprehensive market study was commissioned. Among the factors studied was job growth. Interestingly, we found that during each of two distinct five-year periods of growth about 1,600 new jobs were created. That included jobs from retention, expansion, and attraction.

We used that number as a baseline to establish the Missoula Economic Partnership’s goals for job growth. Those goals, given our new focused development efforts, include creating a total of 2,500 new jobs over the next five years — a substantial increase compared to our historic growth. That leaves us with a question: Where will those jobs come from?

National studies show that a large portion — up to 80 percent — of new jobs in communities around the country are created by existing business expansion and local startups, rather than attracting companies from outside the area. In Missoula, we plan to create 1,650 of our 2,500 new jobs through retention, expansion and startup efforts, with the remainder coming from attraction efforts.

Hitting that mark begins with an organized, efficient Business Retention and Expansion Program. While this program includes many strategic partners, the Missoula Economic Partnership will lead this work. The goal of the program
is to help existing businesses and startups get the assistance (financial, management, market development, talent recruitment, etc.) they need to grow.

As outlined in our strategic plan, the program calls for the following (and more) to be implemented over the next two years:

  • Business Visitation — Visit 50 businesses annually to help assess the specific capital, talent and operational needs of those companies and of the business community as a whole. Already, we’ve conducted 20 visits, delivering plans and contacts to help companies grow and add jobs.
  • Business Assistance Teams — Make a team of business leaders and strategic partners available to provide immediate feedback to select businesses at critical times of growth or need.
  • CEO Mentoring — Establish a group of Missoula business leaders who can be called upon to assist peers struggling with certain challenges. In many cases, Partnership investors will serve as mentors.
  • Peer Roundtable Program — In an effort to expand the possibilities of CEO mentoring, work with strategic partners to initiate a structured peer roundtable program. Such roundtable discussions can provide great opportunities for business owners to exchange ideas and provide one another feedback on finance, operations, marketing, talent recruitment and more.

Notice the emphasis on understanding what organizations need to grow. Expanding and startup businesses typically have windows of opportunity, times when their talent, market position and ideas align to propel them forward. However, many aren’t able to take full advantage of those windows because they fall short on capital or don’t implement the needed management structure. The result? Missed growth opportunities and fewer jobs.

By listening to companies and connecting their leadership to the right resources at critical times, a Business Retention and Expansion Program can help them pass through that window of opportunity and grow. That, in turn, creates jobs organically — 5, 10, 15, 20 at a time. As I’ve seen in my work around the country and right here in Missoula, those jobs truly add up. And I believe they’ll add up to a strong economic future for Missoula.

This column by James Grunke, CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership, originally appeared in the December 25, 2011 edition of the Missoulian’s Western Montana InBusiness.

Missoula Economic Partnership | 500 N. Higgins Ave. | Suite 300 | Missoula, Montana 59802 | P: 406.541.6461 | F: 406.541.6464