If one thinks of it at all, some people believe the term “economic development” is defined narrowly as bringing new business to the area. Of course, that is one element. In today’s world, though, I’d submit that business retention and growth is equally important. After all, if a business has already chosen to invest in our county, shouldn’t we make every effort to support them and help them grow here, providing jobs for our residents and revitalizing the area?

Recent welcome news is the expansions of Tri-Star Metals and Honeywell in Freeport. We are very happy to see this growth in good jobs in our region. In addition, perhaps less publicized, but equally as wonderful, is the recent expansion of unique retail businesses in our downtowns, including Flair Boutique, Five Spotted Fawns, Meier & Company, Pub 219, 312 Beef & Sausage, all in Freeport, and Fluegel’s Boutique & Embroidery and Mulligan’s Bar & Grill (new ownership) in Lena, and I know I’ve missed more.

These businesses support multiple families — your neighbors and friends. It is very important to patronize these local stores so that more of our money stays in the community.

Greater Freeport Partnership’s strategic plan includes resources to assist all types of businesses with challenges they might encounter. One such challenge is the current lack of qualified workforce. The Partnership will collaborate with many other partners to work on this issue. In the short term, we must be creative to find sources of employees, perhaps from previously underemployed populations and by working to attract new residents.

In the long term, this involves supporting efforts of our education and other talent providers in creating solid pipelines to direct our youth to good employment in our region in the coming years. The county’s high schools have very impressive leaders who are certainly aware of and working on this issue. Highland Community College is an invaluable resource to our students, with its variety of programs ranging from associate degrees to technical certifications.

Another resource the Partnership will provide is educational support to businesses. We are putting together programs to assist businesses with business plans, marketing, social media and financing. Look for those on our website and social media this spring. We will partner with experts on these topics to assist. Your feedback as to topics and format are welcome.

The Partnership will also become a centralized source of business data that can be helpful for decision-making. We are looking to provide answers to questions such as potential market demand and recruitment tools for new employees. We plan to keep current demographics, identified market demand gaps, cost of living comparisons, available property and employment data on our website and available to the public. Look for this information by the end of the first quarter. If you have any thoughts about the types of data we should track, please let us know.

And, finally, if your business needs help recruiting employees or entertaining clients, please consider the Partnership as your assistant. We can put together information, give tours and connect you with real estate agents, school information, banking and health care.

Recently, we assisted Honeywell with a community tour for prospective employees and our wonderful local businesses helped by donating many items for gift bags. We are happy to help with this part of marketing our great place to live.

Originally published in the Journal Standard.