A Fresh Approach to Business Retention

It’s the non-glamorous side of economic development.

We’re talking about the process of business retention, which doesn’t get the attention — or the headlines — reserved for bringing new companies and jobs to a region. But it is just as important, and perhaps more so, to the Pioneer Valley’s economic health and well-being as recruitment.

That’s because, as we’ve said many times, this is not a region that has historically done well with attracting companies, especially larger employers, and, given current trends in energy prices and other costs of doing business in the Northeast, there is little to suggest that this pattern will change.

Thus, the best hope for real economic development is retention of current jobs, expansion of existing companies, and new-business development. And thus we’re encouraged by the creation of a new business-retention strategy, or program, called HomeField Advantage.

Launched by the Economic Devel-opment Council of Western Mass. earlier this year, HomeField is a proactive, team-based approach to retention that, as analysts like to say of sports teams at the start of a season, certainly looks good on paper.

What the program strives to do is help companies that are experiencing issues or problems — or anticipating them down the road — with identifying and implementing solutions. History has shown that several companies have had to leave the region or shut down altogether because they were unable to cope with issues ranging from workforce recruitment to fuel prices, or were too slow to seek help in addressing them. And when such a company leaves, some elected official will inevitably say, ‘why wasn’t more done to prevent this from happening?’

HomeField was created to provide the more.

In a nutshell, it works to link businesses with resources that will help them to not only stay in this area code, but also expand, improve product quality, and, in general become more competitive. To accomplish all this, the program creates teams of economic development administrators, legislators, and business leaders that work with the company to create long-term solutions.

Using a state-of-the-art business-retention software program called the Synchronist Business Information System, HomeField administrators hope to more easily identify companies with the best growth potential, and also predict businesses at risk. And by using databases created by Synchronist, the EDC will look at help not only individual companies, but also business clusters, as it did with the region’s base of precision manufacturers.

One company that has found HomeField is East Longmeadow-based Lenox American Saw, which is facing a number of competitiveness issues and clearly understands that it needs help in addressing them. The company has identified several wants and needs, including workforce training funds, strategies to reduce energy costs that have risen by 40% over the past year, and possible designation of East Longmeadow as an Economic Target Area, a designation needed for tax-increment financing.

Bill Burke, the company’s president, said Lenox America Saw has no desire or intention to leave the Pioneer Valley. But he also understands that staying in East Longmeadow will not be easy, and that doing so brings several competitive disadvantages.

To overcome them, he must create competitive advantages elsewhere, and he and others believe HomeField can help in the process of generating them.
As we said, HomeField Advantage looks good on paper.

However, business-retention efforts, like sporting events, are not staged on paper on paper. They’re played — and victories are forged — in the trenches, and through teamwork.

That’s why this is the non-glamorous side of economic development, the side the doesn’t get the banner headlines and the visits from the governor.

But is very important work that now takes a fresh, new approach that holds enormous potential for area employers and the communities that host them.

It is our hope that businesses will take full advantage of this new opportunity and, in so doing, help the region become a stronger and more diverse economic region.