The Business Plan: Economic development and the entrepreneur ecosystem

The Business Plan: Economic development and the entrepreneur ecosystem
Bill Reagan

By Bill Reagan

You may have seen the recent announcement that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration will relocate from Arlington to office space on Eisenhower Avenue. This win for the city highlights what we typically regard as a role of, and certainly an accomplishment of, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership.

When corporations, government agencies or businesses of any size search for sites for a new venture, relocation or expansion, they often contact that jurisdiction’s economic development organization. That is where they learn about current or upcoming vacancies, obtain demographics and other vital data to help with site selection, and are connected to brokers
and government officials.

Governmental and corporate site selection experts are very familiar with the vital role of economic development and the importance of engaging with them at the earliest stage. Too many small businesses and nonprofits overlook that key step when they start their search for a location, and that can result in surprises and costly delays.

AEDP also plays an important day-to-day role in economic and business matters, assisting the city government in meeting its strategic goal for Alexandria to be a city with quality development and redevelopment, support for local businesses and a strong, diverse and growing local economy.

But AEDP realizes that it is not just the large businesses and federal agencies that play an important role in our city’s economy. Small businesses, which comprise 90 percent of Alexandria’s businesses, are a vital component of the city’s economic development strategy. For small business support, AEDP relies on its partnership with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center and the services it provides. In fact, AEDP hosts the small business center because it sees small businesses as such a critical component of economic development.

Those wanting to start a business have access to the center’s informative website and are given the opportunity to meet individually with experts who provide impartial feedback and guidance on concept viability, business planning, state and local requirements and advice on financing. The center has helped hundreds of businesses get started and has facilitated more than $70 million in loans, and all of its services are without cost.

The economic development partnership and its small business center also play an active role helping owners with day-to-day business issues, quickly responding to questions or requests for help. Both organizations make referrals to one another to ensure that businesses receive the best service. Representatives from both organizations participate in many business and civic meetings to hear first-hand about challenges or opportunities and to offer their support. They also convene representatives from different parts of the community and a variety of businesses and nonprofits to further these connections and keep an open dialogue.

Alexandria is respected for its collegial and collaborative relationships among economic development, small business, tourism, the chamber of commerce, business and nonprofit groups, city government and civic associations. The focus is much less on who gets credit and more on sustaining a supportive ecosystem where businesses can thrive.
The writer is the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.