Promoting business is key for Austin

Published 11:17 am Saturday, September 20, 2014

Promoting business is key for Austin

One of Vision 2020’s focus areas is creating a business friendly environment. A community’s success is rooted in economic prosperity. Austin has a solid economy with several organizations working to support and develop the business sector: the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce, the Development Corporation of Austin, the Austin Port Authority, Riverland Community College, and the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Vision 2020 is partnering with these groups to support and enhance current efforts. We also work to find gaps in services, successful programs in other communities and economic development best-practices that can be adopted in Austin. Since Vision 2020 is ending in the year 2020, we have crafted our work to complement, support and improve the work of existing organizations as much as possible. This model also increases communication and cooperation, which helps our community work more efficiently.

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Austin residents share with us their ideas about economic development, particularly in the area of retail. Folks would love to see new and different choices in restaurants, clothing stores and other retail. Some even ask for specific franchises to be brought to Austin.

Unfortunately, in the area of economic development, community-based organizations have a relatively narrow sphere of influence. Generally, a community cannot ‘get’ a particular business to choose to open. Private business owners — particularly chain businesses — analyze a community based on population and income levels. Many also choose a location based on daily traffic counts — how many vehicles will pass by each day.

Luckily, Austin’s population and median income is trending up over the last decade, so with continued growth, more franchises will consider Austin each year.

Encouraging local entrepreneurs is an economic development best practice that is getting more attention in Austin. In general, devoting resources to a local entrepreneur is more likely to yield results than devoting the same resources to incentivizing an entrepreneur from another community to move to Austin.

The Development Corporation of Austin has partnered with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and Vision 2020 to offer the Austin Area Business Forum. This is a monthly program for local business people to learn and network. On the third Thursday of the month, the group meets at the Eagles Club at noon. Programs focus on providing expertise to small business in areas such as marketing, cash flow, competing with online vendors and finding quality employees.

The Development Corporation of Austin is also bringing in a Small Business Development Center from the federal Small Business Administration. Logistical details are still being worked out and I’ll share more as I know more. The idea is to encourage small business of all types in Austin. The Small Business Development Center will offer expert consulting on a variety of business topics for free. This initiative will help meet the needs of small and mid-sized businesses that often have needs not addressed by state and local government incentives.

Encouraging local residents to launch or grow a business is one area where Vision 2020 can work with community partners to impact our local economy. We are working together to create a business friendly environment in Austin.