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For many years, community leaders’ primary approach to growing their local economy has been through industrial attraction, looking for a large employer that wanted to move to their community. Some cities, towns, counties and regions have started to realize that there are other strategies to grow their economy—helping their existing businesses grow. In some communities, this approach has become known as Economic Gardening, an entrepreneurial approach to economic development. It assumes that an economy can be grown from the inside when local companies grow. To help companies grow, the community provides sophisticated information and services that improve the natural entrepreneurial process. Economic Gardening was created in Littleton, Colorado, in 1987 where the job base has grown from 15,000 to 30,000.
A group of economic development partners in Indiana has launched the Indiana Purdue Economic Gardening program to learn from and adapt the Littleton, Colorado, program. Currently, the business growth services are only available to “second-stage” companies. Research and experience have demonstrated that these companies often have the potential for growth but can face some significant barriers, some of which programs like Economic Gardening can help address. These second-stage companies are defined as follows:
The Indiana Business Growth Network (IBGN) helps leaders of second-stage companies grow their businesses. This overview provides information about the services offered by IBGN: who does it, the scope and scale of the program and how these services can help second-stage companies grow.
The business growth approach is focused on four strategic issues: (1) core business strategy, (2) market intelligence, (3) qualified leads and (4) leadership and management team development. The team has the ability to evaluate markets, run competitor intelligence, follow industry trends and new product releases, track regulations, assist with search engine optimization and web marketing, set up social media campaigns, map customer locations and densities and evaluate core business strategies. They can also do a wide variety of custom research.
Representatives from local economic development organizations refer companies into the program. Participating companies complete an online profile. The economic development representative then works with the company leadership to schedule a conference call interview with the Economic Gardening team. The purpose of the interview is to gain a good understanding of the company, its industry and its issues. At the end of the interview, company leadership identifies the top issues facing the company. These issues will then be translated into questions that the team can help answer.
The team debriefs to make sure everyone understands the issues and to discuss insights each member might have. An action list is drawn up and assigned to each team member. Work begins immediately, and the company leadership begins to gather information from the team, often within hours. Over the next several days, the team may be in contact with the company leadership for further discussion.
It is important to understand that the members of the team are not consultants but should be considered, rather, as highly-skilled staff. The company leadership will receive a lot of information fairly quickly and will work in tandem with the team members.
In Littleton, Colorado, this type of support is available on an ongoing basis with some relationships lasting decades. Currently in Indiana, most engagements are likely to be short, intense and highly focused on participating companies’ biggest issues. The engagement and research period typically lasts a week or two. In cases where a company may want a longer relationship, this can be considered as interest arises.
The Economic Gardening team partners with Indiana’s local or regional economic development organizations (LEDOs and REDOs), chambers of commerce and other groups to deliver these services. Those interested in more information about making this valuable program available to their second-stage companies can connect with the program through the Purdue Center for Regional Development staff who can provide technical assistance and coaching in setting up the program and are also available to talk with LEDO/REDO boards, industry groups or anyone else in the local or regional community who could benefit from hearing about this exciting program for growing our Indiana economy.
To apply for the Economic Gardening program or learn about Purdue Extension’s role in the Economic Gardening program, contact:
Emily Del Real