Today, as never before, it is an economic imperative for companies to continually evaluate how each of their locations is performing. As county and community representatives for economic development, we no longer have the luxury of helping a company to locate in our area and then forget about it until there is talk of expansion. We can easily make the mistake of spending all of our time recruiting while companies in our area quietly close their doors. It is critical that we take a proactive approach to retain the businesses we have.
In addition to the competition from other states and countries, we must consider the internal competition that each location faces within its own parent organization. Executives in all businesses must pay attention not only to producing a good product or service but also to making sure they maximize return on assets and return on investment.
As a community leader, your support and involvement in the company can be a contributing factor to that company’s success and longevity in your area. There are steps that can be taken by local representatives that can significantly affect a company’s decision to continue or expand in your community.
Start with a strong knowledge base. Get to know the company not only on the local level but also at the corporate level. This involves research to determine the corporate goals and how the local operation fits in with these goals. Annual reports are a great source not only of financial information but also of company direction, policies and procedures. News articles in business publications are a source of current issues, problems or opportunities.
Involve company executives in the community. Get to know the local management and when possible the corporate executives responsible for the local operation. On the local level invite them to your civic club and other functions. Be sure to include more than one local manager if possible as these managers generally move around a great deal and if the senior executive is moved you will still need someone to communicate with in the company.
Be interested in the operation of the company. Make sure you know more than the basic profile of a company. Learn the important issues and challenges facing the organization. This step is of particular importance because as you discuss the issues with local management they will see that local officials are indeed interested in the well-being of their company and the people who work there. This is also a good place to do additional research on corporate issues and personalities. Be sure to pay attention to whether the local manager is in tune with corporate officials and their goals. This will help you to avoid the political minefields that exist in most organizations.
Build personal relationships. Developing a trusting relationship with management of course takes time and effort. Confidence and trust are built over time and generally one step at a time. One of the most important things you can do is to keep confidential information confidential. Some people have difficulty with keeping a confidence while others often offend people with the manner in which they respond to questions relating to confidential information. It takes a little practice but learning to handle confidential information with ease will pay great dividends.
Help market the company — become their advocate. Helping to promote the interests of the company can reward you handsomely. Make sure people in your community know the good things that are happening with the company. Nominate their people for community boards, awards and honors. When the local operation or its managers or employees do extra good send the information to the corporate manager responsible for the local company’s division or even to the CEO of the parent company. This will do several things. First, it will let the home office know the local operation is doing well and is appreciated in the community. Second, it will help the local manager in his or her relationship with the home office. Perhaps the greatest benefit will accrue to the local community, as it will serve to build the stature of the local company with the home office. This will become very important when the internal project and capital allocation process begins. It will give a leg up to your local operation to either get the new project or to retain the present operation in your community rather than losing it to other communities.
Become a resource to the company. Offer assistance to the local operation and the corporate office before a crisis develops. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know what the issues are and you will have the confidence of the executives.
By providing solutions for their problems, you give the local community the image of being a genuinely interested partner in the company and its success. This relationship will provide a valuable advantage over the competition.
J.C. Burns has been a banker, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority and now runs Burns Development Group from Ridgeland. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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