By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE—(November 19, 2013) As any gardener knows, preparing the soil and planning for the growing season are essential to achieving a decent harvest. On Nov. 18, the Region 10 Small Business Resource Center hosted a workshop specifically for local economic development officials on Economic Gardening, with the idea of creating a more fertile environment for businesses to grow.
Leading the presentation was Joe Keck of the Fort Lewis College office of the Small Business Development Center in Durango. Attendees came from Montrose and the surrounding communities. Also on hand to provide insight was Ed Morlan of the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado.
Though many development agencies work to lure “second stage” companies—those with six or more employees and earning revenues between $500,000 and $50 million annually—Keck said that his organization works largely with local companies. Today, the Fort Lewis College SBDC has 500 clients, which Keck called “intense.”
“We need to target our resources, and we believe “bird in the hand” companies bring a better return than companies brought in from outside,” he said, and added that his own interest in obtaining better data for business was sparked by the experience of owning a Hallmark store in Cortez years ago.
“We were looking for good information, and while there was “canned” information available from Hallmark, it was hard to develop a business plan based on those numbers, which were so much higher than what we were seeing,” he said. “About half of the businesses we work with at the SBDC are startups, and we want them to walk out the door armed with much better information.”
The “grow-your-own” economic development philosophy was inspired by the experience of Littleton, Colorado, Keck said.
“When Martin Marrietta closed, the economic development director met with the City to talk about what to do,” Keck said. “And they decided not to pay tax rebates or offer incentives to outside companies, but to work with what they had.”
A toolbox is essential to economic gardening, and includes an array of data resources that are available for data mining—everything from business to business marketing lists, industry and lifestyle reports and profiles, and the demographic data known as “tapestry” that helps further define a community and a market. Keck listed the resources he and his team have used to assist clients, who range from municipalities to companies to restaurants to Native American tribes.
“Folks want to know, if they are going to grow their companies, what are the opportunities?” Keck said. “So we started to compile data, and a build a network of business advisors—we value their time at $100 per hour, and give them a 12.5 percent credit on their state taxes.”
Providing retail data for decision makers based on sales tax filings was an early project that Keck and his team took on, and as time went on, they continued to build their arsenal of resources. Research Consultant Donna Graves has been instrumental in developing the process of “data mining” for Region 9 and the SBDC, developing ways to use the data on behalf of local business; one of Grave’s many accomplishments has been to come up with a “pull factor” for Region 9 communities based on the available data.
“Tapestry” Information on lifestyles and demographics can be especially useful to those who are new to a community, Graves said.
“If you already live there you may have a pretty good idea, but if you are coming in from outside, this kind of information—income levels, educational attainment, type of home–can help you decide what type of business to open,” Graves said.
Keck also suggested that one way to get started building information resources is through the Home Loan Bank Jobs grant program, which provides $25,000 in funding with few strings attached.
“If you are in the business of tracking jobs, this is a cool source of funding,” he said.
Keck noted that recent FLC SBDC clients have included the Southern Ute Tribe, whose Ignacio Cultural Center became a $39 million project.
Region 10 Executive Director Michelle Haynes, who organized the economic gardening workshop, said that her contacts with Region 9 and the Durango SBDC have given her a new outlook on what is possible for an economic development organization in rural Western Colorado.
“I have a new appreciation for data mining,” Haynes said. “You develop a picture—and then use your resources to get a BETTER picture.”
Among those who came to the Region 10 workshop was Sarah Carlquist of Delta County Economic Development (DCED).
“I work in economic development, and I have heard about economic gardening before but did not know much about it,” Carlquist said. “I am here to learn.”
“Economic gardening is essential to the Hometown Competitiveness Model,” said Region 10 SBRC Director Vince Fandel. “This is a way to take our existing businesses, and help them expand, survive and grow.”