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Editorial: Data tracking critical tool in economic development

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ECONOMIC development long has been associated with the attraction of new businesses to a community.

That element certainly was a major factor in Columbus’ boomlet of the 1980s and ’90s in which millions of dollars in new investments and thousands of added jobs changed the economic infrastructure.

The Columbus Economic Development Board was at the center of that successful mission, but often overlooked in the flood of new companies coming to town was the equally important mission of helping existing local businesses.

Local governments have attended to the needs of existing companies through the years, offering tax abatements for expansions and throwing in a number of incentives to induce businesses to maintain operations in the area. One of the prime examples of this latter effort would be the 2003 campaign to convince the Dorel company to stay in Columbus and actually expand operations at a time when it was considering moving production to other areas.

The concept of tending to the home front has now been taken to a higher level by the local economic development team, which is launching a program to get a better understanding of how existing companies are affected by the local business climate and what can be done to maximize opportunities.

The intent of the undertaking is to gather information from extensive interviews with 50 local businesses that will be conducted through 2013. In-depth questions will be posed to business leaders on their attitudes about issues ranging from the local workforce to the quality of high-speed Internet access.

This is not the first time the economic development board has sought the attitudes of local businesses, but this process is expected to be far more detailed and have the added benefit of being able to be correlated with data from other communities.

From these findings, government and business leaders should get a reading on areas that either stifle or encourage local businesses and take corrective action where needed.

This kind of information and the response it engenders can have wide-ranging effects.

While the primary beneficiaries would be existing local businesses, the business climate that could emerge from this also would serve as an important recruiting tool in attracting new investment.

It is a win-win situation for companies already here and those yet to come, but the overall community benefits as well.

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