Published in Economic Development

SBAM pushes for continued statewide economic gardening initiatives

BY Sunday, June 24, 2018 02:00pm

Group lobbies gubernatorial candidates to commit to small business agenda

LANSING — The Small Business Association of Michigan wants to build on the state’s past efforts in economic development policy while also creating continuity from one governor’s administration to the next.

That’s important for SBAM, since Michigan voters will elect a new governor in November to succeed Gov. Rick Snyder, who’s term-limited and leaves office at the end of the year.

In issuing a series of policy recommendations now for an “entrepreneurship- led” economic development strategy that focuses on existing, growing companies, SBAM wants get its ideas in front of gubernatorial candidates as they campaign for office this summer and fall.

“We would very much like to shape the thinking of all of the candidates for governor right now, and start a conversation about economic development strategy and philosophy that hopefully will lead into the new administration, whoever it is,” said SBAM CEO Rob Fowler. “We’re not tipping our hat to one candidate or the other. We are very much saying that whoever is the next governor, we hope they will embrace this philosophy and this strategy.”

Much of what SBAM urges would retain and build on the “economic gardening” strategy of recent years that emphasizes supporting and accelerating growth at existing small businesses.

In a recent roundtable discussion MiBiz hosted with local economic developers, Tim Mroz of The Right Place Inc. in Grand Rapids noted the importance of maintaining continuity in strategy as administrations change in Lansing.

With less than six months to go before the transition of new state leadership, one important question for economic developers hinges on what tools the next governor will give the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the various local organizations around the state.

“It’s that matter of consistency,” said Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications at The Right Place. “You show me any private business that every four years takes their entire product portfolio, wipes it clean and creates a new product line. And then you have to go back to your customer and try to sell that product line. It just doesn’t work.

“A lot of us have that ‘back of our head’ concern right now: What’s going to happen in the next administration?”

SBAM sought to provide potential answers to that question with policy recommendations as the gubernatorial campaign moves into high gear. The association would predicate an economic development strategy for the next administration on further extending economic gardening and focusing on business growth stages, rather than industry sectors.

The association would have the state primarily focus on second-stage businesses that typically employ 10 to 99 people, generate $1 million to $50 million in annual sales, and have the “intent and capacity” to grow, Fowler said. That focus would go on top of continued efforts to recruit new investments to the state — a strategy known as “hunting” for companies — and ahead of providing support for startups within Michigan.

“What we’re saying is let’s focus on economic development efforts on the place that the jobs really come from,” Fowler said. “We are not antihunting, but this is a continuation of our philosophy of economic gardening.”

Among the 14 recommendations outlined in a report prepared by Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants Inc., SBAM pushed for the creation of a cabinet-level position in the governor’s office to “drive policy innovations that support the growth of small businesses in Michigan.”

The person filling that cabinet position would then chair a new “small business growth acceleration board” formed to “promote and coordinate small business growth acceleration efforts,” according to the SBAM policy paper.

Those moves would solidify the new administration’s support for growing secondstage businesses and ensure that it’s not just idle rhetoric that sounded good in the campaign, Fowler said. Everybody running for public office is always “for small business,” Fowler added, “but how they organize government, does it reflect that prioritization of small business?”

“We want them to embrace it and organize their government so that it remains. It’s not just talking points in a speech,” Fowler said. “Personnel is policy. If you don’t organize it in a way that makes sure somebody’s held responsible to make sure it’s part of your agenda, then we think it’ll be just words.”

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