For the past two months I have been working with Sauk County Economic Development Corporation and Sue Gleason at SyzyGy50 on an Economic Gardening Pilot Program for businesses in Sauk County. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, businesses are in business to make money, not to cut costs. It’s all about the margins. Traditional Economic Gardening Programs have offered free services to member businesses. The cost for these programs has been prohibitive for small agencies and rural communities. Ever since attending a workshop with Chris Gibbons three years ago I’ve been trying to figure out a way to bring an Economic Gardening Program to the communities I work in.
Last summer I had a flash of inspiration. This program could be offered to local EDs, Chambers and Municipalities as a self-funded program, at no cost to the agency. Once we are able to show the benefit of the program to local businesses they would be willing to pay for the services. We actually did find funding to support the pilot stage of the program. Alliant Energy gave us an Economic Development grant. The W. R. and Floy A. Sauey Family Foundation also provided start-up funds. My partner Sue and I have provided the services.
So far, we have met with 7 companies and provided services to 5. Early feedback has been amazing. A small start, for sure, but we are a small, rural Wisconsin county with some great entrepreneurs. Businesses out here tend to manufacturing and construction. Both of these industries have been heavily hit by the current recession. Manufacturing is a mature industry. The entrepreneurs who will survive are the ones who are being innovative and watching out for the margins. One of the managers we met with told a story of being brought in to run a local company with absentee owners. He was told that the owners did not want to spend any money. He replied what they wanted was to make money and he proceeded to take the innovative approach to the business and except for a hiccup in 2007 the business has been growing ever since. Yes. Growing in this economy.
I am in the process of updating my website and will be adding more information about the successes of this program to the sidebars.