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Economic Gardening: Show Off Your Garden

Have you heard of GrowFL?  If you are interested in economic gardening, you almost certainly have.

The Florida Economic Gardening Institute at the University o f Central Florida (www.growfl.com) has become an integral part of the State of Florida’s economic development strategy.  Created in 2009, it became one of the earliest and most prominent organizations in the post-recessionary movement toward economic gardening.  GrowFL has helped more than 400 companies create 1,400 new jobs statewide.

GrowFL is Very Good at Marketing  
It is worth emulating as a promoter of its own services, an evangelist for economic gardening and an example of how to infuse EG into economic development as a whole.

The skills and energy evident in GrowFL’s marketing are unfortunately rare in the EG community.  They are not seen often enough in places where EG projects are being offered as a way to build local economies.  That’s too bad, because even if those projects succeed – as they very well could, given the sound principles of economic gardening – their success might be limited to providing assistance for selected companies.

Economic gardening, as this series of articles has shown, is important for more reasons than its documented success in job creation.  It helps to integrate and enrich other types of economic development programs and it makes online communications, including websites and social media, more effective.

This integrating quality should inspire economic developers to create marketing programs to go with the projects.  When an economic development organization embarks on an EG initiative, it should do more than simply announce the initiative, describe what economic gardening is and publish an application form inviting companies to participate.  If you examine websites promoting such programs throughout North America, in many cases that’s all you see.

There should be more, much more.  Show off your garden!  Use modern tools and techniques to promote the concepts and benefits of economic gardening, and enrich your full suite of programs with them.

This Economic Garden is Really Blooming!
You could start by visiting www.growfl.com and examining the various ways in which GrowFL spreads the word about EG – and about its own programs.  Let us count the ways:  There are videos, case studies and a variety of reports, news releases, a newsletter, testimonials and information about events.  There is Twitter – with tweets organized and accessible by theme for the 990 followers – there is Facebook, of course, but there is also Google+ and a variety of social media sites for bookmarking and sharing of content.

There is lots and lots of outreach.  GrowFL connects its EG services to the economic development community as a whole by means of CEO roundtables, seminars, an awards program, research and certification  initiatives.  It has strategic, funding and economic development partners.  It runs an annual “Companies to Watch” event, in partnership with the Edward Lowe Foundation and promoted by Florida Governor Rick Scott. 

No End to Ideas
As GrowFL demonstrates, economic gardening and marketing should go together.  There are many ways that EDOs could use marketing strategies to move economic gardening into the public arena, to use it as a lead-generation tool and to add power to other EDO programs by generating data and knowledge.  Some ideas:

  • Virtual Tradeshow — A virtual trade show is a themed collection of products, services, companies and/or regional attractions that recreates on the web the experience of a conventional trade show.  Technology exists to link economic gardening websites or pages to virtual trade shows where client companies can interact with potential customers or stakeholders around the world.  This technology is rapidly developing; to see the state of the art, visit www.usaexportexpo.com, a marketplace for US exporters.

 

  • Business Profiles – Economic gardening generates boundless opportunities for business profiles and the telling of success stories.  Such things simultaneously make winners of the companies, their business communities and the economic development organizations that introduced them to economic gardening.  Have a look at https://northcarolina.companiestowatch.org and see how this partnership of Carolina Economic Development and the Edward Lowe Foundation promotes the winners of its annual competition for second-stage companies.  The 25 winning companies for 2012 collectively added 55 employees from 2008 through 2011, a 146-per-cent increase in jobs, and kept going in 2012 with 37 per cent more employees than in 2011.  At https://northcarolina.companiestowatch.org/index.ctw?page=media you can view a series of videos with the winners talking about their companies.  The videos can be downloaded and sent anywhere.  Why don’t we see more organizations doing this?

 

  • Newsletters – Greater Rochester Enterprise has the first economic gardening program in New York State.  The Fall 2012 issue of its newsletter, Talk It Up Rochester, has an effusive article about the first 20 companies chosen to participate.  This colorful newsletter is a good model for how to create a promotional document that adds energy to a program.

 

  • Websites, blogs – Economic gardening needs visibility but it also needs results.  Those take time, usually a few months to a year before the participating companies start to see their sales and prospects rising.  Meanwhile, websites and blogs should be devoted to keeping up encouragement, advice and a sense of community among the participants and sponsors.  Examples of organizations that do this include Community Futures Okanagan Similkameen in British Columbia (http://www.economicgardeningcanada.com/page.asp?PageID=109), Grow Nebraska (www.growneb.com) and Midland Tomorrow in Midland County, Michigan (www.midlandtomorrow.org).  To see some interesting blogs about economic gardening, please visit http://en.wordpress.com/tag/economic-gardening.

In this series of articles we’ve examined a number of EG initiatives that are making some serious economic impacts across North America. However, many EG programs are hidden away, quietly trying to get the work done while hoping that someone stumbles upon them and participates. Imagine how much more could be achieved if effective marketing and promotions was the norm rather than the exception.

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