Local economy is resilient; it will surge back to health

At the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership, our mission is advancing strategies responsive to the needs of McMinnville’s traded-sector businesses.

After 20 years of economic development work in the Midwest and Southwest, Scott Cooper moved to McMinn-ville in March 2019 to head the McMinn-ville Economic Development Partnership. He enjoys the relationship building element and is excited to be leading an organization having a positive and immediate impact on the city he now calls home. His major outside interests are golf, cycling, family time and the neverending search for the perfect chicken wing.

To best fulfill that mission, and most efficiently and effectively serve these businesses in our community, we developed four strategic goals: 1) business retention and expansion; 2) new business recruitment and attraction; 3) workforce development; and 4) innovation development.

In the world of economic evolution, business retention and expansion is designed not only to encourage the growth of local businesses, but also to strengthen their connection in the community. To that end, we seek insight into business practices, planned future actions and challenges that need addressing.

In early March, we launched a soft introduction of its new retention and expansion campaign. Armed with a set of survey questions developed in house, we set about conducting a round of on-site visits, tours and interviews.

But the COVID-19 pandemic cut that short. We had to find new ways to continue our work.

We conducted our first informational visit on Thursday, March 12. The next day, we had our initial meeting with officials in the governor’s office on restrictions being imposed on business activity to limit the spread of the virus.

As you can no doubt appreciate, routines changed for all of us in those next few days — at MEDP, in the business community and in the larger community. Now, more than ever, we recognize that retention and expansion must be our priority.

We serve more than 80 trade-sector companies. Together, they account for 15% of McMinnville’s overall employment.

Their owners and managers possess a unique and valuable perspective on the local business environment — one that extends well beyond their own market niche.

During our retention outreach, we hear about opportunities and challenges companies are facing long before they reach the public eye. The more knowledge we have about individual companies and their functions, the better we can help them meet their needs and assist them in making new business connections.

By listening to existing businesses and responding to their needs, we can help them survive when things aren’t going well and thrive when they are. Positive actions to mitigate business challenges can help them grow and develop more effectively.

That is why it is vital for economic development organizations to know and advocate for the interests of actual businesses.

Companies already established in McMinnville are in the best position to create new jobs and help fortify the local tax base. What’s more, how supportive they perceive our community to be for local business can influence the decisionmaking process for outside companies looking to relocate to or expand into our community.

Attracting a new business is like hitting a home run in baseball. Retention and expansion successes more resemble singles. They are easier and far more frequent.

Fewer than 500 expansions or relocations across state lines are launched in a given year. And with more than 15,000 economic development agencies vying for them, odds of success aren’t high.

However, given our stable base of existing companies, a well-conceived, well-managed business retention and expansion program — we call them BRE programs in the trade — can significantly improve the odds. It certainly has the potential to spur new investment in the economic well-being of our community.

Economic developers figure existing firms generate up to 80% of net new jobs and capital investment in any economy. And in Oregon, that figure may be even higher.

According to Alisa Pyszka, president of Bridge Economic Development in Portland, 3% of new job creation and capital investment in Oregon comes from out-of-state relocation, 11% from out-of-state expansion and 86% from local startup and expansion.

Of course, business attraction efforts remain a vital component of a well-rounded economic development program, as new dollars flowing in will always be necessary. However, a holistic economic development strategy includes a combination of all four of our strategic goals.

The economy in any given location is ever-changing and evolving. Ignoring existing companies to pursue new ones represents a lost opportunity to help the local business community thrive and grow.

And under the weight of a pandemic, everyone shifts into an endurance mode. Now, more than ever, our businesses need someone working with them, reaching out for them and making an effort on their behalf.

BRE programs assist companies with technical issues, financing, regulations and permits, sales and marketing, planning and  zoning, building code issues, strategic planning, operational management, workforce recruitment and development, even succession planning. Their forte is sound, reliable, value-added information.

When the situation permits, they also assist with relocation and expansion needs. They help with the identification and preparation of new sites, expansion of current sites and development of new facilities.

Over the last several weeks, we have seen our business community pivot and adapt in the face of challenging new circumstances.

McMinnville companies have developed an increased online and social media presence. All over our community, new collaborations have been emerging and innovative new solutions have been popping up.

Some local firms have even begun making equipment for ventilators or retooling to make personal protective equipment for first responders. It speaks to the resilience and creativity of our local businesses.

As we continue to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on our community, we must focus on where we are now and what we will need moving forward.

The adversity our businesses have endured over the last nine weeks will, I am confident, spur a resurgence of innovation and creativity. Out of it, new opportunities will arise.

Displaced workers will help fuel a new surge of entrepreneurism. New efficiencies will be discovered out of necessity. New partnerships will be forged through business-to-business connections.

The current situation will not define our business culture. It will foster a new, more resilient one. And at MEDP, we’ll be here to help.


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