Regional-based business retention program gears up for 2013 launch

By LVEDC Staff on April 16, 2013

Think of job growth in our region as a three-legged stool. You need to attract new companies, help top-flight entrepreneurs turn their dreams into reality and you have to take care of the companies that are already here.

It’s the last category that has spurred the Lehigh Valley’s forward-thinking leaders to fully embrace an aggressive and all encompassing business retention and expansion program.

“The bedrock of any region’s economic development program is its business retention and expansion efforts,” said Bob Bilheimer, LVEDC director of business retention and expansion (BREP).

“While the big attraction projects grab all the headlines, 80 percent of actual job growth over time comes from the expansion and growth of existing businesses. Without a solid retention effort, today’s recruitment success becomes just another neglected company tomorrow.”

Recognizing this, LVEDC has taken the lead position in organizing  a coalition of the region’s economic development partners. The goal:  to establish and reenergize the Lehigh Valley’s business retention and expansion program – and to address opportunities in a professional and systematic manner.

“A business retention program provides us with advanced warning about problems and just as importantly allows proactive intervention with companies who may not recognize the assistance that’s available to them,” Bilheimer said.

Bilheimer knows from experience as he’s been conducting business retention visits since January. The formation of the regional program will serve to augment his efforts.

Step one began March 1st as LVEDC hosted a Regional Development Leaders Meeting that attracted more than three dozen of the top business and community leaders from across the Lehigh Valley.

“We discussed what an effective BREP program should look like,” Bilheimer noted. “What partners would be included in the network, what business sectors would be targeted and prioritized, and which Lehigh Valley businesses should be visited first.”

The discussions then focused in on specifics:

  • key questions that have to be asked
  • how the information obtained can be smartly extrapolated, complied and used
  •  how can an “early warning” system be developed to help at-risk businesses before it’s too late, and
  • how effective “follow up” can be accomplished.

“It was a very productive session,” Bilheimer noted.

Looking forward, the plan is to establish a business retention and expansion working group that would include at least one dozen Lehigh Valley organizations to zero in on targets. Currently that list includes the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, the departments of community and economic development for Lehigh and Northampton counties, the Allentown Economic Development Corporation, the Lehigh Valley Industrial Parks, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners and the Manufacturers Resource Center.

Priority clusters identified at the March 1 meeting included the manufacturing, computer and technology, pharmaceutical/bio/life sciences, education, healthcare, tourism and alternative energy sectors.

The business retention and expansion working group will then formulate a “pilot” program that will run up to five months.

The first working group meeting is set for noon, April 26th. Initially Bilheimer would like to see the group meet monthly.

For more information, you can reach out to Bilheimer at (610) 266-7665.

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