The Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Town of Sidney, the District of North Saanich and the District of Central Saanich, is proposing an economic development program that municipal councilors, administrations and the business community at large can use to measure the vitality of the local economy, identify local and regional issues that impact the business community and initiate and implement responsive plans. The proposed program is a BUSINESS RETENTION AND EXPANSION (BR+E) program that works by focusing on the present and future needs of businesses to encourage them to remain in a community and help them expand. Existing businesses are the foundation to the local economy. They create jobs, invest, pay taxes and contribute to social and community needs. Local businesses are what drive local economies.
What is BR+E?
A BR+E program is systematic in nature. BR+E works with a team of trained volunteers to conduct structured interviews with as many business owners and managers as possible over a set time-period. The data are entered into a software program.
The information gathered throughout a BR+E program becomes part of a comprehensive database used to develop strategic plans and create a stronger business climate. How local councils tackle the opportunities that flow from the final report will be based on a full and complete understanding of the business community’s actual needs, not what it “thinks” they need (using anecdotal evidence from a few business owners in a roundtable format or e-Survey, or conducting economic studies through the use of consultants). This means that a list of priorities can be developed rationally that will meet the most pressing needs first, and then use the information to set strategic long-term policies and make the best decisions moving forward at the municipal, regional, and even provincial level. At its most basic level, BR+E not only builds relationships between businesses and the local decision-makers, but the information gathered allows the municipalities to track the relationship through time, thus maintaining important knowledge whenever staff vacates/retires, or when councils are revolving every three-years.
Why BR+E as opposed to traditional economic development?
- Between 60-80% of local job creation over time will be attributed to existing firms (as opposed to new start-ups or foreign companies relocating). Most of a community’s job growth and capital investment comes from companies already located in the region. These local companies contribute significantly to the growth of the local economy through job creation and increased property assessment.
- BR+E is the only effective method of identifying risks to the local community proactively.
- 100% of potential job loss will come from existing firms. We don’t think about this when the economy is healthy, but as soon as things get even slightly unstable, we are all on edge about whether a firm might close its doors. Only then do we wish we had been proactive.
- BR+E has a proven track-record of success with over thirty years of project examples that can be used for ideas to respond to business needs.
Goals and Results
- Identify companies with plans to expand
- Identify companies at risk of leaving/downsizing
- Identify company and community issues
- Provide valuable information for strategic planning and policy
- Be able to deliver assistance and provide solutions to problems in short, medium and long-term
- Build, develop and maintain strong relationships amongst stakeholders
- Contributes significantly to the growth of the local economy through job creation, increased property assessment, taxes, business investment
- Facilitates the gathering of strategic business intelligence, which can lead to the development of an effective strategic planning for economic development;
- Represents a more cost effective approach to economic development than the attraction of new businesses;
- Facilitates the development and implementation of actions to address urgent business issues, i.e., early warning system;
- Acts as a business attraction strategy; and
- Facilitates the development of an improved local business climate
The Value Proposition of a BR&E Program:
- Meaningful collaboration, partnerships and opportunities amongst businesses and between businesses and local councils;
- Development and implementation of rationale, workable strategies that are designed to build brighter futures for the communities and regions the companies serve;
- Company-specific solutions and services;
- Companies feel “valued” through the visitation and interview;
- Companies may gain a renewed interest in their community in response to the visitation;
- Critical issues are identified and resolved;
- Identification of issues impacting multiple companies
- Companies are saved or assisted directly or indirectly;
- Linking businesses with partners that will assist in addressing business challenges
- Development of strategies to overcome barriers to growth (connecting businesses to sources of capital, removing local and provincial obstacles that prevent existing firms from remaining profitable or in operation, and support growth of business infrastructure).
BR+E Program Outcomes:
Results from BR+E programs throughout North America are varied according to the specific goals intended by the formation team. However, if the BR+E process is conducted properly and with buy-in from various groups (i.e. not owned entirely by one), results are positive.
Sample outcomes include:
· Identification of local firms with active plans to relocate to another region.
When a large processing facility in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan announced a relocation, the community and all levels of Government were shocked. A BR+E interview months earlier could have brought the issues to the forefront and enabled various parties to be proactive in response to these issues.
· Identification of local firms with active desire to expand.
Many firms that expand will relocate to bigger facilities, or closer to transportation channels. Discovering their plans as early as possible can align various needs in advance to enable them to stay within the community rather than look elsewhere.
· Identification of economic opportunities.
When one business needs to hire five more welders next season he puts an ad in the paper. When a community-wide BR+E process discovers several or even many firms with this same need, partnerships with local learning institutions can train many welders. This is valuable data to support educational efficiencies as well as business efficiencies.
· Discovery of and Solution to Community Issues.
When a strong Canadian currency threatens an entire industry like tourism, there’s not much one business can do to take control of that problem. But if, through a BR+E process, a common theme emerges of businesses that face a similar issue, the team can bring these businesses together to look at a collaborative solution—like joint marketing, a local coupon project, or a new destination package process. The data forms the case and achieves buy-in for solutions; enabling effective collaboration.
· Build relationships with the business community.
Problems seem to be solved easier when a human-to-human relationship exists. A BR+E program builds relationships between businesses and the organizations that are determined to work with them (including Government staff and elected officials). But what happens when staff at established organizations leave? BR+E is like a client-tracking tool so that new staff can see the issues that specific businesses have faced in the past and what response was offered to them. This means that progress will build upon itself.
· Contribute to a healthy and stable business environment that ensures jobs and a steady tax base.
When the Mayor and Council in Swift Current, Saskatchewan received complaints that the community was in decline, they needed a plan. Since previous attraction efforts did not work, BR+E seemed like the best fit. In 2005, within 18 months of the BR+E process, the results were already happening. Ultimately, $200 million in new business permits and expansions resulted within a short amount of time (previous annual record for permits was $26 million).
Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Role:
Most BR+E programs are conducted by a diverse and apolitical “leadership team” containing members from Municipal council, the business community, learning institutions, financial institutions and others. The reason for this diverse team is that the solutions to problems can rarely be solved by one agency; rather, the solutions are collaborative in nature. For example, what can the municipality do if the issue of “access to expansion capital” is discovered as an important need for small firms?
The Chamber plans to act at the Project Manager for BR+E. This means that the Chamber will convene the people required to make the project a success, as well as manage and facilitate the process. This will involve: recruiting and training volunteers, hosting/facilitating project teams and project planning sessions, guiding the interview process (and conducting some as well), input, management, and dissemination of data from the process, presenting progress and findings reports to the team and to each council as required, hosting of community forums and convening of project action teams (the actions are selected and prioritized from the data), as well as celebrating the progress of the team and local councils as progress is made.
British Columbia BR&E Initiatives
Many communities across Canada and the United States have implemented BR+E programs successfully. In British Columbia the communities of Vernon, Nelson and Kamloops, for example, have implemented or are implementing similar programs. The following links provide information on these community’s programs.