Company retention visits are vital to economic development

Northern Lakes Economic Alliance shares a model program for regularly visiting those companies in your region that keep the economy strong.

Having a proactive retention program for local companies is a key foundation block for a successful economic development program. With a multitude of responsibilities, we are often bogged down and only make time to deal with the “emergency of the day.” This reactionary position prohibits us from taking the time to visit those larger, successful companies that are keeping our local economy strong.

Michigan State University Extension partner, Northern Lakes Economic Alliance has been successfully implementing a retention visit program for years. With a regular retention visit program, communities can meet and discuss the wants and needs of their base employers in a relaxed manner. These visits build relationships, give an opportunity to express thanks to the local company for their investment and job creation and often times, identify future projects the company is considering. Advanced knowledge of plans provides the time necessary to assemble resources needed to help the company move forward. It’s also a great way to identify and rectify a problem before it’s too late.

Three easy steps can get your community’s retention program started:

  1. Recruit your “retention visit team.” This is best with a three-person group including your local economic development organization (such as NLEA), the state’s economic development organization (MEDC) and a local workforce representative (MI Works).
  2. Identify the companies to target. We recommend you focus on those companies that produce “base jobs” (companies that sell their services or products outside of your region). Often, these are manufacturing companies; however, you can adjust it to your community’s situation.
  3. Develop a schedule and make the visits. You need a lead organization to provide administrative support to schedule the meetings. We recommend the team agree on a certain day(s) each month to hold open so the scheduler can simply fill the day with appointments.

Visits usually take about an hour and are more of a “conversation.” It is a relationship-builder and meant to establish a closer bond between the communities and the companies. This established relationship makes future exchanges much more positive.

Once the company visit is complete, each agency follows up as appropriate and keeps the line of communication open especially if a project or issue was identified.

Michigan State University Extension has had a unique relationship with the regional economic development organization Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) for more than 20 years. Recognizing the strength of combining resources, this partnership focuses on economic development, entrepreneurship growth and community infrastructure throughout a four-county region in the northwest Lower Peninsula, specifically Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. As a result, the NLEA utilizes resources offered through MSU Extension as it provides leadership to state-wide programs sponsored by MSU Extension.

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