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I used to love the magic 8-ball when I was a kid. It was fun to think up question after question, shake it, and look at the answers.
In our consulting practice, community leaders often ask us, "When are we going to land X?" "How long is it going to take to add jobs in our community?" Sometimes I think they are waiting for me to pull a magic 8-ball out of my briefcase to give them a specific date. I can't do that, but I can tell them the one question that provides the best indicator of the likelihood of adding jobs in their community.
The Question: Do your current businesses have what they need (infrastructure, workforce, business environment) to operate efficiently and grow?
This question will tell you all you need to know about the chances of adding jobs in your community. Here's why:
- About 80% of your job growth will come from existing companies. That's right. About 4 out of 5 new jobs in your community will come from companies already there. These jobs may come in smaller numbers and usually don't grab headlines or involve ribbon cuttings, but they are vital jobs for your residents. Your community must do all it can to ensure its local businesses have the workforce, infrastructure, and business environment they need to be successful. This requires communicating with companies consistently, listening to them, and doing something about the problems they are facing.
- Prospects looking to invest in your community will ask existing businesses whether the community is holding up its end of the bargain. Several years ago, we were involved in a company's final visit to a prospective community. It was an advanced manufacturing company that would bring highly skilled, good-paying jobs. They had the jobs every community coveted. We had a full day planned. We went to the prospective site, met with various local and state officials, and were scheduled to visit other advanced manufacturing companies in the area. The first company visit was supposed to last 45 minutes, but the prospect spent 5 hours there! They quizzed the existing company backward and forwards on all the factors critical to their decision - the workforce, infrastructure, business environment, and much more. The prospect wanted to know whether the company was getting what it needed from the workforce. Was the infrastructure sufficient? How responsive was the community when it came to problems? Was the community a true partner? The time spent on the manufacturing floor with the existing company was critical for the company and the community. The candid feedback was a big reason the community landed the project.
The health of your existing businesses is the best barometer for your community's ability to add new jobs. If your current companies are healthy, jobs are likely to follow. Don't walk past an old friend to meet a new one. Too many communities are too focused on attracting the next new, shiny thing. Pay attention to your existing companies, and work to make them healthier and more efficient. It's your best way to add jobs and attract new investment.
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