Retaining businesses in your community
About business retention and expansion
"Business retention is at the core of everything we do in economic development. It's the first thing on my list — to take care of our existing family of businesses."
— A Minnesota Community Leader for Economic Development
Retaining and expanding local business is central to the mission of economic development in Minnesota. Economic developers build positive relationships with businesses, put systems in place to connect with businesses regularly, and follow up when there are problems are critical business retention activities. With over 20 years of work with communities, Extension has a host of resources that can help economic development leaders get this work done, so that they can create a community climate where businesses thrive.
Help for your community
Extension offers online help, courses and events, and in-depth community consultation to help communities create a plan to help their businesses.
Explore recent research
Scholars and economic development experts pay attention to business retention efforts – innovative practices, case studies and emerging issues. Read reports on our research and community programs we helped build.
Learn from other communities
You won’t know what businesses care about unless you ask. In these case studies, you'll see how asking businesses what they need can lead to important community projects – housing development, community beautification, leadership succession planning, and more.
Use our tools to survey businesses
View role-play examples
Have you met with your local businesses? Watch our below videos for role-playing examples and tips for visiting firms.
Access our survey questions
Are you ready to survey your local businesses? Use our survey question bank to gather information important to businesses and find out what they need.
More community resources
Below, you'll find more online resources to support business retention and expansion in your community.
Retaining and expanding business in your community
Watch these videos for descriptions of ways to implement a business retention and expansion program in your community.
Watch the 18-minute version for the most detailed insights. The shorter versions are good for sharing with colleagues and officials who you need to support your efforts.
Full video (19:06)
Short preview (2:25)
An overview (5:48)
DVD for sale
The full business retention and expansion DVD includes the above video segments, our three-step process and results in local communities.
If you like to buy a DVD, mail a $25 check made out to the University of Minnesota with a short note to:
University of Minnesota Extension
462 Coffey Hall
1420 Eckles Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55108-6068
The DVD will be shipped postage paid for U.S. and Canada locations. Extra shipping may apply for other destinations.
Learnings from local communities
Since 1990, Extension has helped more than 70 communities interview local businesses to learn about their needs and concerns. Communities use the information from these surveys to respond to business concerns in order to increase the likelihood that local businesses will stay and expand in the community.
In 2015 (updated in 2017), Extension organized data from 25 years of these interviews, ultimately creating a database of responses from more than 2,200 interviews that provide insights into what Minnesota businesses care about. Data is aggregated at the community level to protect firm confidentiality and allow communities to compare their responses to one another.
Please refer to the informational videos and user guides below for information about how to organize and interpret the data.
The goals of creating this database are two-fold:
- One, to provide a benchmark for communities engaged in the program to measure themselves.
- Two, to inform public discussion of business issues in Minnesota.
Economic developers, community groups, community leaders, and those who research business retention and expansion may use this information as a tool as they weigh their options for investing in economic development strategies or local quality of life.
This benchmarking tool gives those interested in economic development unprecedented access to the experiences of thousands of Minnesota businesses. This data, and the knowledge gained from them can inform economic development goals, contribute data to relevant research questions, and describe the relationship between businesses and local communities. While private consultants and government agencies have collected similar data, our team is unaware of publicly available benchmarked data.
How to view the data
All data is available in downloadable files on this page. If you're familiar with Excel, consider reviewing the summary user guide for specific information about how to interpret the files. If you're not familiar with Excel, we suggest you download the full user guide. It will walk you through how to make the most of the database.
This information will be updated over time to increase its depth and richness. It is our hope that other economic development entities will also create and share benchmark data sets for the betterment of all business retention and expansion professionals and stakeholders.
Introduction to benchmarks
Retaining and expanding business in your community:
Lessons from 24 years of business retention and expansion
Webinar by Michael Darger to North Central Regional Center for Rural Development. He provides an overview of the business retention and expansion program, why existing businesses are so important, a couple of recent innovations and resources available from the University of Minnesota Extension.
Ripple effect mapping is a new technique that University of Minnesota Extension is using to help communities capture the ripple effects emanating in the community as a result of a business retention and expansion strategies program.
Read Michael Darger 2014 article in Journal of Extension
Need help building a community program to retain businesses?
Unsure how to build your own business retention program. With our over 20 years of experience working with communities, we can help you research local needs, prioritize projects and act. Learn more about our research, consultation and coaching services.
Consult with us
Community economics • Leadership and civic engagement • Tourism
Extension educators work in communities with partners throughout Minnesota. Contact us for consultation, guidance and conversation about your community.