Spring, my favorite season, is finally here. I’m an avid gardener, so it isn’t surprising that I would welcome this time of year wholeheartedly. This year, I will be learning about a new approach to growing, Economic Gardening. In early April, I will travel to Big Rock Valley, a 2600-acre learning campus on the property of the Edward Lowe Foundation in Cassopolis, Michigan to become certified as an Economic Gardening market research specialist. I can’t wait.
Driven by the National Center for Economic Gardening (NCEG), Economic Gardening is a “grow from within” strategy targeting existing growth companies and offering them critical strategic information that is customized to their needs. This information can be key to propelling the company to its next phase of growth. Economic Gardening originated in Littleton, Colorado in the 1980’s under the direction of Chris Gibbons, then director of the city’s business and industry affairs and now CEO of the NCEG.
During the 20-year period Littleton practiced Economic Gardening, jobs grew from 15,000 to 30,000, and sales tax revenue more than tripled from $6M to $21M without any recruiting, incentives or tax rebates. Since its inception, the program is running or has run successfully in 34 states. There are Economic Gardening programs in Canada, Northern Ireland, Australia and Japan. The program has received three national awards including being a finalist in Harvard’s Innovation in Government award program.
At first glance, it might be easy to confuse Economic Gardening principles with traditional economic development tactics. Gardening is not about connecting entrepreneurs with support institutions or helping them with their operations, workforce development or tax credits. It is about leveraging research using sophisticated business intelligence tools and databases that growth companies either aren’t aware of or cannot afford.
Research specialists typically assist in four key areas: strategic market research, geographic information systems, search engine optimization and social media marketing.
Examples of how specialists help companies include:
* Identify market trends, potential competitors and unknown resources
* Map geographic areas for target marketing
* Raise visibility in search engine results and increased web traffic
* Track websites, blogs and online communities to better understand competitors and current and potential customers
* Make informed decisions on core strategies and the business model
I think I can anticipate your next question. What makes Economic Gardening different?
Because yes, there are a number of programs aimed at helping small businesses. The SBDCs, SCORE, the SBA, numerous universities, city and state government and chambers of commerce have these kinds of programs and all of them are needed. Economic Gardening differs from these programs however, in several significant ways. The program works on the big strategic problems facing a CEO, not the operational aspects of a business.
The two big deliverables that a CEO working with an Economic Gardening specialist can expect are research and frameworks for analyzing the major classes of business problems. This work is grounded in the principles of the New Sciences (complexity, network economics, systems thinking, and temperament), which provide deep insight into the biological systems embedded in businesses.
My reference to biological systems brings us back to the part I like best in my job with the KSBDC, working closely with entrepreneurs on the nitty-gritty components of their businesses. I hope you will contact me later this spring when I have returned from Michigan to work with you in growing your business. Let’s get our hands dirty together!