ECONOMIC GARDENING

4 Northwest Ohio Businesses to Try “Economic Gardening” Strategy

Fremont News Messenger Friday, Nov. 4

economic gardening

Gail Coe, president and CFO of Capitol Aluminum and Glass in Bellevue, has participated in an “economic gardening” pilot project. / Jonathon Bird/News-Messenger

Written by  Mark Tower, Staff writer

FREMONT — An economic development initiative pioneered in the late 1980s by the City of Littleton, Colo., has come to Northwest Ohio.
Economic development agencies in Sandusky and Ottawa counties have partnered to offer four mid-size businesses a chance to grow through the “economic gardening” strategy.
Ottawa County Improvement Corporation Director Jamie Beier Grant said two businesses in the county have been chosen to participate in a pilot program.

“The point is to find out what some key areas of opportunity are and identify the key issues going on within the company,” Beier Grant said. “Then the team finds key information to answer questions for the company, or arms them with information to be more competitive or creative in the marketplace.”

Economic development staff in the Denver suburb of Littleton have found great success by focusing on giving existing businesses the tools to grow instead of investing time and effort only in landing the “big fish” employers.
According to a 2010 article in the Economic Development Journal, a publication of the International Economic Development Council, the job base in Littleton has increased from 15,000 to 30,000 since the economic gardening strategy was adopted. The sales tax base has shot up from $6 million to $20 million, according to the article.

The local pilot program pairs business managers with a team of experts in fields such as market intelligence, business development and search engine optimization. The program, run through the Michigan-based Edward Lowe Foundation, gives each business 30 hours of the experts’ time to do research that could help the company grow.

Sandusky County Economic Development Corporation Director Kay Reiter said one business has gone through the program in Sandusky County, Capitol Aluminum and Glass in Bellevue.

The second pilot project is still in the selection process, Reiter said.

Capitol President Gail Coe said the opportunity came at exactly the right time for her business.

“I thought it was a good experience,” Coe said. “A lot of data was derived from this. It does make more work, but I think it is fruitful work.”
The business, which manufactures architectural windows and doors, expanded to neighboring states in July. Coe said the program helped her collect a list of architects and glaziers in the new markets, which she said would have likely been a more expensive and time-consuming undertaking without the help.

In Ottawa County, Signature Label in Oak Harbor has gone through the economic gardening program, and Martin Industries in Elmore is in the midst of it.

The program is reserved for “stage two” companies, meaning companies with six to 99 employees and bringing in annual revenue between $750,000 and $50 million.

Reiter said economic gardening is not the only thing an economic development agency should do, but it can be beneficial for some companies.

“It’s not for everybody,” she said.

Sandusky County’s Economic Development Corp. devoted $10,000 of its budget to the two pilot projects. Ottawa County Improvement Corporation budgeted $6,000 for its two projects.

Reiter said they have asked companies to donate whatever they use back into the fund if it proves beneficial for their businesses.
Both directors said they plan to fund more economic gardening projects in 2012.

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