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The Ahab Syndrome - May 14, 2013

May 2013

My work with client facility relocations and expansions has provided me the opportunity to talk to a lot of economic development folks over the years. Usually, they will want to talk about the significant effort that they put into trying to attract new businesses and jobs into their communities. And, as those familiar with such activities know, there are a lot more stories about "the ones that got away" than the ones that they landed.

Interestingly, when I ask clients or prospects if they have ever gotten any kind of assistance from their town, the answer is typically no, not really. Frankly, many business people have no idea who is in their Town Hall or what the heck they really do in there.

This admittedly unscientific research leads me to believe that, just maybe, there are a lot of economic development folks out there who have a huge opportunity hiding right under their noses.

While attracting new business is an important aspect of any community's economic development team, it seems that some people tend to put way too much emphasis on it. They get so wrapped up in trying to capture a new company that they completely forget about the businesses that they already have. I call this the "Ahab Syndrome". What if we flipped the old 80 - 20 rule around and focused 80% of our economic development efforts working with local businesses and 20% on new business attraction? Consider all of the ways that a community could benefit from helping local businesses become more competitive and profitable. More jobs, better wages, facility expansions, additional tax base, and more reinvestment in the community. All of the things that people believe will happen if they can just land that new manufacturing plant or insurance company.

So...where do we go from here? Try to spend some time meeting with the business leaders in your community and ask them what the need. Hold seminars to get the word out about things that can help businesses reduce costs and improve competitiveness. Provide them with information about grants and funding programs that can offset the cost of implementing process improvement or energy efficiency projects. Hold workshops on continuous improvement, cost reduction, health care, and regulatory issues. Focus on making it "easy" to do business in your community. Granted, it isn't easy to know all of this stuff and put together workshops. But that's why you joined CEDAS in the first place! Our mission is to provide Connecticut's economic development community with information, training, and support so they can help their communities prosper and thrive.

If you think that you may have been suffering Ahab Syndrome, or would just like to find out more about ways to help your business community grow, give us a call. We're here to help - Really!!

Tom Burmeister - Profit Miners & CEDAS Board Member

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