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 begun 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 over 30,000.
A group of economic development partners in Indiana have launched the Indiana Business Growth Network (IBGN) 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 IBGN 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 IBGN 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 the IBGN Application & Agreement, which is sent to the IBGN team. The economic development representative then works with the company leadership to schedule a conference call interview with the IBGN 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 IBGN Team can help answer.
The IBGN 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 IBGN 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 IBGN 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 IBGN 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.
IBGN 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 IBGN through the Purdue Center for Regional Development. PCRD staff 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.
Scott Hutcheson, Business Growth Strategist
Scott’s role in PCRD’s Economic Gardening is to work closely with local and regional economic development organizations to help them develop and implement a business, growth-oriented economic development strategy that may include an economic gardening component. Scott is available for strategy sessions with economic development staff and boards, to speak with industry groups and to do industry visits with second-stage companies to help introduce the program.
Susan Davis, Team Leader
Susan is a team leader for the PCRD Economic Gardening Team. Susan serves as the liaison between participating companies and the rest of the team. Susan has a vast amount of experience working with entrepreneurs and business leaders from a variety of industries. Susan also directs the Hoosier Heartland Small Business Development Center and can call upon those resources as needed to assist companies.
Indraneel Kumar, GIS Analyst
Indraneel contributions to the team are to perform geographic analysis of markets and assets including location analytics for businesses. He has a significant amount of experience in GIS and spatial analyses focusing on community and economic development.
Hal Kirkwood, Market Research Analyst
Hal is a business librarian in the Parrish Library of Management & Economics at Purdue and leverages the incredible market research assets of the library to provide valuable data and analysis for participating companies.
Erik Deckers, Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Analyst
Erik is an expert in social media and content marketing. He is an author with more than 1,400 published columns, articles and reviews and co-author of three books on using Social Media. Erik uses his skills and experiences to help participating companies harness the full power of search engine optimization and social media to grow their business.