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Fostering Networks for Economic Gardening

Economic gardening pre-dates the World Wide Web as a business enabler in widespread use.  The web, though, has provided the foundation for the proliferation of economic gardening initiatives in recent years.

Web tools have enriched the ways that economic gardening can be applied.  Economic development organizations are finding that they can use the web’s connection-building ability to foster networks that help second-stage businesses thrive.

At the 10th annual National Economic Gardening Conference, ( held June 12-13 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, an enthusiastic entrepreneur named Carl Erikson illustrated how economic gardening and web tools provide a one-two punch for expanding companies.

Erikson is president of a software development company called Atomic Object, based in Grand Rapids.  It was one of 54 small businesses chosen for the Pure Michigan Business Connect Economic Gardening Pilot Program launched in November 2011 by Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Erikson was looking for help in evaluating potential for the company to open an office in the Detroit area.  He wanted to keep growth under control, attract the right talent and preserve the company’s high-performance culture.  In other words, he needed networks that would help him find both customers and employees that were the right fit.

Erickson triumphantly told the Grand Rapids audience in June that, as he was speaking, his company was opening that office in Detroit.  Atomic Object is now on its way to increasing employment to about 50 from 30, and revenue to about $5 million from $4 million in 2010. The expansion, Erickson said, has been aided by the economic gardening pilot program.

On its website (, Atomic Object has published an article called Thank You Economic Gardening Team.  It cites the Michigan pilot program not only for strategic advice but for providing sophisticated GIS market research and detailed search-engine-optimization analysis.

Here is an illustration of how economic developers can use economic gardening concepts combined with web-based tools to build networking capabilities for their client companies.  Tools are available, for example, to identify which people and companies have visited a website and what they searched for.  This generates tangible business information and helps reach both potential customers and employees

GIS and Economic Gardening

As for GIS, this is one of the most powerful technological allies of EDOs applying economic gardening in their communities.  Companies like Atomic Object have benefitted from GIS tools that can be used to identify and analyze prospects, opportunities and threats.

Some communities view economic gardening and GIS as inseparable.  East Lyme, Connecticut, is one.  Its planning department led by Gary Goeschel has set up a GIS Economic Gardening and Development Center ( to assist small businesses with property identification, researching demographics and navigating local commissions and departments.

The GIS system uses more than 3,000 variables for demographics, consumer spending, business and traffic data. They can be analyzed in a geographic context as granular as block groups, census tracts, or ZIP codes to produce on-demand reports and maps.

“The intent is to provide market research, competitor intelligence, industry trends, marketing lists, strategy development, web optimization and customized research for any business within East Lyme at little or no cost through the use of GIS,” Goeschel says on the GIS Economic Gardening and Development Center site.

East Lyme understands that data analysis is the secret to second-stage business growth, and that the secret can be unlocked by the combination of economic gardening and web tools.

Economic development organizations can make use of this idea even if they don’t have a formal program that they call economic gardening.  The City of Elk Grove, CA, doesn’t advertise economic gardening as a program, but it is there in all but name on a portal called

The portal uses GIS software to gain free and immediate access to real estate, demographic and industry data. It lists development incentives, labor force data, education levels and consumer spending. Businesses are mapped by industry showing their distribution and concentration.  Users can drill down to specific information, including zoning, and locations of railroad tracks, hospitals and schools.

Great data such as this is critically important to businesses as they make location decisions and it’s the role of the ED organization to provide it.

Once the data is available, the ED organization still needs to let businesses know that this economic gardening service is available, by whatever name. Building it doesn’t mean they will come.

From the start, the new data product needs a promotional program to be developed for it. Marketing, communication and outreach to targeted prospects is required and this can be achieved using a variety of channels such as social media, RSS, e-mail, advertising or other communications.

Network building is a top-priority job for both economic developers and their clients.

Please comment on this article, give us your feedback or provide a topic idea for a future article!

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One Response to “Fostering Networks for Economic Gardening”

  1. November 26th, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Lisa Tjapkes says:

    Thanks for mentioning our “Thank You Economic Gardening Team” blog post on Atomic Spin and including a link. Would you mind making the link active?

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