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Business Observer Tuesday, May 1, 2012 8 years ago

Should EDCs focus on attraction or retention?

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Should economic development organizations exist to help existing businesses grow or attract competing businesses?

One question always dogs economic development organizations: Should they exist to help existing businesses grow or attract competing businesses to an area?

Sometimes, that issue is so divisive that it can lead to an economic development organization's collapse. For example, the Economic Development Council of Collier County dissolved last year after it failed to secure millions of dollars in incentives for a genetics-lab facility that some Naples entrepreneurs opposed.

Now, under the auspices of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, various business interests and county government officials are exploring what other Florida counties do. They commissioned Hodges University to survey 11 similar counties that have economic-development programs, including Lee and Sarasota.

One revealing detail: While all economic-development groups say they try to help local businesses and attract new ones, only the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. devotes more staff to attracting outside businesses to the area. Most economic development groups, including the Lee and Sarasota organizations, devote a larger percentage of staff to helping existing businesses grow.

According to the Hodges survey, the Tampa EDC devotes 70% of its staff resources to attracting outside businesses to the area and spends 80% of its funds on that mission. The only other organization that comes close to that is Miami's Beacon Council, which devotes 50% of its staff and 60% of its funding to attracting outside businesses.

The researchers at Hodges offered no analysis for the survey findings and aren't making any recommendations. But Collier County seems to be doing fine without its EDC because the area posted some of the strongest employment gains on the Gulf Coast on an annual-percentage basis

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