In a previous column, I mentioned in an earlier article the importance of having a business retention and expansion program included in a community's growth plan. Part of the reason is that it is relatively easier and less costly to maintain and grow existing businesses in a community than to attract start-ups.

We should note both start-ups and existing businesses are very important. Start-ups are necessary to keep the community vibrant with the introduction of new products, services, innovation and competition to local and regional markets. Existing businesses are also necessary as those generally provide commercial stability to the community, have a business model that functions in generating sales, paying expenses and hiring employees, all activities which bring needed economic activity.

Two very important aspects of a BRE program are the identification of the businesses in the community that need and want assistance and the delivery of services to those businesses.

Identifying the businesses that need and want assistance can be very challenging for community leaders and service providers. The daily operation of a business can keep a small business owner focusing on the needs of the day and leave little, if any, time to research assistance resources and engage those services.

There are a few approaches that can make this process more effective. One is providing surveys by community leaders and organizations to obtain feedback from business owners as to what challenges they have and assistance they need. Documenting the needs of small businesses is very helpful in creating data that support program development and raise the dollars necessary to provide that support.

Another approach is to physically visit the businesses on a regular schedule. Simply showing up on site and letting a business owner know that there is interest in providing support and assistance goes a long way in developing the relationships necessary to build the trust with business owners.

That trust then allows for conversations about how to assist the business in stabilizing, improving and possible expanding their business.

Delivering services is very important in a BRE program. Once the business owners seeking assistance are identified and conversations lead to determine what the business needs, work can begin to make the connections to people and organizations that can provide assistance. Services and support can be a local, regional as well as state and national depending on what the business needs and what is available.

Programs and assistance offered through organizations such as city and county governments, workforce development organizations, community college and university programs, chambers of commerce and economic development organizations can provide numerous training, consulting and connection assistance.

Services such as financial reviews, marketing, financing, business plan development, hiring assistance are just few of the services that can help a business stabilize, improve and possibly expand its operation.

These aspects of the BRE program can help retain and create jobs as well as wealth in a community. And job creation and wealth creation are vitally important to the healthy growth of a community.

In our west Kentucky region, many communities are refocusing on these BRE efforts and in the process of developing those programs. Some of those will be highlighted in future columns.

Chris Wooldridge is an instructor in the subjects of finance, banking and economic development in the Murray State University Bauernfeind College of Business. He is also the director of the MSU Center for Economic and Entrepreneurial Development, which assists small businesses in a variety of ways. He can be reached at 270-809-2495.

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