Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC) and its partners value feedback from its stakeholders to achieve the mission to cultivate opportunities for primary job growth. RAEDC’s business retention and expansion team coordinates a formal outreach program called “Voice of the Customer” (VOC) to utilize feedback from Winnebago County companies on their perspectives of the regional business climate to identify opportunities and barriers to growth. These businesses are “customers” to economic development partners: they use public services and infrastructure, they borrow capital from financial institutions, they hire graduates from educational institutions, or they may use the Foreign Trade Zone or other economic program. VOCs are a data-driven and research-proven technique that supports retention and expansion growth.
RAEDC reaches out to prime sectors/clusters in Winnebago County and invites their participation in the VOC program, which consists of a one-hour visit to the company. RAEDC maintains confidentiality and does not release information about individual companies. Information is analyzed by Synchronist System, a software program sponsored by Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) that aggregates the data, displays trends, and identifies opportunities to prioritize economic development efforts. RAEDC uses the information to collaborate with partners to proactively strengthen growing businesses and support struggling businesses, capitalizing on expansion opportunities within the region and preventing business closures.
VOCs are more than surveys to collect data; they are also a mechanism to produce economic results. We learn about each business and build relationships. RAEDC connects companies to community resources to solve issues currently impacting the company, for example workforce or infrastructure needs. We use the information to identify potential local suppliers or customers. RAEDC learns about expansion plans and coordinates with the company and economic development partners to provide information, mitigate potential barriers, and eventually realize these investments in the local economy.
Economic development is dynamic: companies continually face new challenges and new opportunities within their company, their industry, and the region. It is the job of economic development professionals to maximize growth opportunities. Pro-active retention and expansion outreach, such as VOCs, is an essential tool for RAEDC and its partners’ efforts to facilitate business growth, which resulted in over $303 million of investment over the last three years.
For more information about the VOC program contact Karl Franzen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-969-4258.