By Patrick McConahy
There are basically two main ways in which economic development organizations can pursue leads. One way is to look for those few companies out there that we classify as “low hanging fruit”. These companies have plans to grow immediately and rapidly develop an area. The other way to pursue leads is by “farming the field”, casting your net wide and then slowly reeling them in. Valid arguments can be made for both approaches in terms of what way is the best, but at the end of the day you cannot focus on just one and forget about the other.
One of the biggest changes we’ve seen in the economic development industry over the past year is the growing need to find these “low hanging fruit” leads. I suspect the reason for this is a growing level of accountability that boards are holding their economic development professionals to. This translates into the need produce results, i.e. business development, quickly. However, the more and more an organization focuses on trying to satisfy the needs of here and now, the less attention they pay to securing leads for the future. This is a very dangerous path to travel down because you are putting all of your eggs into one basket. Even if you are able to attract the lead to your area, once the deal is locked in place you have to start from scratch re-building all of your relationships with the leads you let go by the wayside.
Yes, it is important to do as much as possible to develop your area quickly, but the way you can add the most value to your organization and your community is by developing relationships with many leads all at the same time. Today’s business environment is so transient that what is true for a company one day, may not be true the next. I’ve seen it countless times, a company says they have no plans to expand or relocate, but then the next day they get a new customer and all of a sudden they need to build a new facility. That right there is why farming the field and building relationships with companies and executives over a period of time is so crucial to the viability of an economic development organization. However, it can sometimes be difficult to prove that point if you are going through a little bit of a dry-spell.
The bottom line is, when you have leads don’t take any of them for granted. No matter how cold the trail has seemed to go at least take the time to let your leads know that your still interested in them. Yes, you should hope to get great leads that want to develop right away, but you can’t count on that happening consistently. The lead development business can get mighty tricky sometimes, but at long as you don’t give up on anyone for any reason you always have a chance at success.