Businesses bring jobs to a community, they infuse money into the local economy, they enhance peoples’ quality of life, and they help define and add to a community’s character. It is no wonder that people choose to live and raise their families in places where there are jobs.
In spite of the many benefits that local businesses provide, economic development efforts often focus on attracting new businesses, when the data suggest that a more effective approach for some communities may be to support the businesses they already have. Historically speaking, the majority of job growth comes from existing businesses, so Cooperative Extension established the Business Engagement and Retention program to help communities retain existing businesses.
Molly Donovan, State Extension Specialist for Community Economic Development, said, “The key to the business retention is fostering a relationship between local businesses and civic and community leaders to ensure that the businesses’ needs are understood and met.” Needs might include help with access to capital, skills training, succession planning, exporting, and securing additional space for expansion. In order to ascertain these and other needs, Extension trains community volunteers to interview local businesses.
Last year, Cooperative Extension worked with the Portsmouth Economic Development Department to implement the Business Engagement and Retention Program. Community volunteers interviewed 71 businesses. One key finding from the interviews was that businesses are looking to expand the pool of potential employees and they would like to see a stronger link with the University of New Hampshire (UNH).
To address this need, Cooperative Extension, the City of Portsmouth, and the UNH office of Career and Professional Success (CaPS) held a “How to Hire a Wildcat” event that engaged Portsmouth. CaPS provided businesses with helpful information about student job placement, career fairs, and internship opportunities. The event was well attended by Portsmouth businesses who learned about the many ways that they can recruit students and recent graduates. CaPS is following up directly with participating businesses to assist them in accessing interns and new hires. Extension sees this partnership as a valuable resource to bring to together communities working on business retention. Donovan noted, “This is a win-win for Extension, communities, the business community and for our UNH students.”