In economic development it’s very easy to concentrate on creating incentives and infrastructure to attract new businesses. Everyone questions the expense of trade-shows, or the dog and pony shows to woo executives or site selectors. Yet everyone wants to land the shiny new corporate campus, the manufacturing megalith, or the quiet tax giant data center and who can blame them? These projects are resume builders for staff and headline grabbers for politicians and municipalities; it’s easy to allocate time and resources to creating "buy-in" from elected officials and other decision makers.
Is there another way to create new tax base while still improving your odds of recruiting new businesses? There is a great quote by Seth Godin that goes something like this, "I am not trying to find a new customer for my product, I am trying to find a new product for my customer." You see, your community already has a customer base (it's businesses), what product (expansion, same city relocation) can you find for them?
What if communities started allocating the majority of their economic development resources to the business they already have? It is no secret in the business world that marketing to a current customer is far cheaper than creating a new client. It is also a well-known fact that a happy customer is one of the best marketing tools a business can have. This being known wouldn't the intelligent use of funds be an efficient BRE program and incentives tailored towards making your current customers (businesses) even better customers (expansions and job creation)?
Are the businesses in your community happy? If not, what would make them happy? Is your staff making a point to assure those businesses that they are valued? Socially, business executives are no different than anyone else. They regularly interact with their peers, who are…you guessed it, other business executives! What are they saying about owning a business in your city to executives with businesses in other cities? Are they singing your praises, or complaining about your pitfalls? What could you do to make sure it is the former?
Don’t forget who you already have. Make them brand advocates for your city. Information is spread and shared at lightening speed in today's world, give them something positive to share. Spend your resources, most often only a staff time investment, on the customers you already have. Remember, your city is your product; you need to care what your customers (businesses) are saying about your product if your product is to survive.
Remember, the grass is never greener if you take care of your own backyard.