Pro-active approach to economic development

Joining forces with your local economic development team, state officials and other organizations to visit local target companies can help identify and resolve an obstacle before it is too late.

Creating a pro-active program with your local economic development team, state officials and other organizations for local companies to receive a joint visit, is a key foundation block for a successful economic development program. Many business owners have a to-do list a mile long that they often keep their head down and only make time to deal with the “emergency of the day”. By creating this collaborative visitation program, it allows time to visit those local companies that are keeping our communities' economy going and assist before a problem occurs and be pro-active in facilitating retention and growth.

Michigan State University Extension partner, Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) has been successfully implementing a retention visit program for years. With a regular retention visit program, businesses can meet and discuss their wants and needs in a relaxed manner with a group of professionals that can make their growth happen.

These visits build relationships, give an opportunity to express thanks to the local company for their investment and identify future projects the company is considering.

Advanced knowledge of future plans provides the time necessary to assemble resources needed to help the company move forward. It’s also a great way to identify issues before they become a challenge.

These are the three steps NLEA uses that you can also use to get your community’s retention program started.

  1. Recruit your “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 times these are manufacturing companies or other large employers; 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. NLEA recommends the team agree on a certain day(s) each month to hold open, so the scheduler can simply fill the day with appointments.

A typical visit takes about an hour and is more of a “conversation”. It’s a relationship builder and meant to establish a bond between the economic development group, the State and the companies. This established relationship makes future projects and meetings much more positive and productive.

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. If you need assistance or questions about how to set up your own company visit program contact the NLEA at or 231-582-6482.

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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