Helping small businesses grow into bigger businesses is something any economic development organization hopes to do. As businesses grow, they create jobs, add taxable space, purchase more stuff and become a bigger engine for their regional economy.

The Greater Peoria Economic Development Council is launching a new program this fall that is all about growing our own. Economic Gardening identifies small businesses eager to grow and offers 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 is not about connecting small businesses with support institutions or helping them with their operations, workforce development or tax credits. It is, instead, about leveraging research using sophisticated business intelligence tools and databases that growth companies aren’t aware of or can’t afford.

The program originated in Littleton, Colorado in the 1980s. The city’s director of business and industry affairs, Chris Gibbons, decided business attraction wasn’t the best route to job creation for the small community. Instead, he hired individuals with expertise in market research, GIS and marketing, and began working with small businesses to help them use his team’s expertise to their advantage for growth. Over the next 20 years, jobs grew in Littleton from 15,000 to 30,000, and sales tax revenue more than tripled, from $6 million to $21 million without any recruiting, incentives or tax rebates.

Other communities began to notice Gibbon’s success and eventually, the Edward Lowe Foundation adopted the model and created the National Center for Economic Gardening (NCEG). NCEG is a place where economic developers can become certified, as well as access national research specialist teams to support small businesses in their own regions using the Economic Gardening model.

Sally Hanley, our director of business assistance, recently completed the Economic Gardening certification, and our team will now be searching for five small businesses to send through the program each year. To participate, companies must meet the following criteria:

The program cost per company is $4,100, but the Greater Peoria EDC will be paying 75 percent of that fee, thanks to our incredible investors. We will initially use Edward Lowe’s national research specialist teams, but we hope to eventually identify and train our own specialists and put together an Economic Gardening Team right here in Greater Peoria.

There are several outstanding partners who are part of our GPEDC Economic Gardening Team, including Mark Rothert, Peoria County; Ross Miller and Chad Stamper, Bradley University Turner Center for Entrepreneurship; and Dr. Leslie McKnight, City of Peoria.

If you would like additional information about this program, contact Sally Hanley at [email protected]. iBi