Why Economic Development Matters – Business Retention


The effect Economic Development has on a community can be experienced in many ways. Over the next few months, we will cover the Top Six ways the daily work of economic development matters, beginning with Business Retention.

Therese Thill, RAEDC President, has highlighted business retention as one of the strategic areas of economic development work the RAEDC will focus on. We recently had a conversation with her about why business retention is important and what primary employers can expect.

You’ve implemented a Business Retention Visit program, why is this important?

At the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, we systematically get out from behind our desks to visit about 150 companies per year. We do this to gain a better understanding of our customers, in our case, Rockford Region businesses.

It’s really about customer service and gaining a clear understanding of what is happening in the ‘real’ world. Excellent customer service is a must in all occupations, and serving existing industries is also our number one priority. Existing businesses drive more than 80 percent of all job creation and capital investment.

Do you only meet with companies that plan to expand or grow?

No, we value all our existing businesses; however, we do focus on primary employers. In simple terms, a primary employer is a business or industry that produces goods and services for statewide, national, or international markets. The goods and services are exported to consumers outside of the region, resulting in a stream of new dollars coming into the local economy and ultimately the distribution of wealth through wages paid to employees, a stronger supply chain, and tax revenues.

Secondary employers are those businesses that serve the local community and essentially recirculate local dollars. An example of a secondary employer is a barbershop or plumbing company that caters primarily to a local consumer market.

Describe your visits with a company.

It’s a candid conversation, where we do most of the listening. We try to get a snapshot of the company’s situation, opportunities, challenges, and pain points.  Although the discussion is candid and relaxed, we do use a systematic approach with set questions.

The information we gather is kept confidential and may be aggregated to reflect trends in the area. This disciplined approach, along with custom software to capture the information, will give the RAEDC greater insight into what’s needed to keep the local economy healthy.   

Assume I’m the CEO of a Rockford area company. Tell me in 30 seconds or less why should I meet with you?  

Your input is important to us. Existing businesses create the bulk of jobs, payroll, taxes, and capital spending in our economy. These are the RAEDC’s number one customers. We want to hear from our customers.

Second, regardless of expansion plans, CEOs and business owners provide the Rockford Region with a view from the street. We hear about opportunities and challenges long before it’s a major trend and makes the front page of the Wall Street Journal. And from a community perspective, the CEO is providing valuable information about whether the community is on the right track or going in the wrong direction.

Finally, and just as important, I would tell a CEO that having a base knowledge of their company can be an advantage. From a business­-to­-business perspective, the RAEDC has helped some businesses connect.

Our goal is to bring resources to the table to help the company continue to grow in the area. These resources might be a connection to financial assistance or working through a problem with the municipality.

Business Retention visits allow the RAEDC to understand a variety of industries that are important to our region and communities. These visits are a critical aspect of economic development.

Contact Jerry Sagona, VP of Business Development at GSagona@RockfordIL.com to discuss a business retention visit for your company.