Economic Evolution in the Great Lake State
12:00 am
Mon June 11, 2012

reWorking Michigan: Economic Gardening Helps Growth Companies Build Strategies

Economic gardening -- helping local entrepreneurs grow their own jobs rather than recruiting new workers from outside -- is building strong roots in Michigan. KI Technology Group recently took part in Michigan's economic gardening pilot program.

If you drive around East Lansing near the MSU campus, you may have come across the KI Technology Group’s company van.  The IT company has two of them, actually, each emblazoned in deep blue and red tones with the image of president Linda Lynch near the door.

It’s also not too hard to find the company online, even if you don’t know it’s name.  You just have to know a couple of generic key words.

Linda Lynch chuckles at the simplicity.

“Yes, (if) people are searching for me, they’ll find me whether or not I’ve optimized for my own company name,” Lynch muses. “So, the trick is to get inside the head of your prospect and figure out, what would they type into a search engine if they were looking for someone just like you.”

But Lynch wants to take KI beyond the random keyboard discovery.  So in March, she enrolled in Michigan’s economic gardening pilot program. 

Economic gardening involves giving growth companies the tools they need to make strategic decisions about themselves and their customers.  The program assigns a four-person research team to work directly with each CEO to help determine their needs. 

Loch McCabe was Lynch’s team leader.  He’s the president of Shepherd Advisors in Ann Arbor.  One thing McCabe’s team worked on with Lynch was search engine optimization – improving her website’s visibility.

“Even though her company’s name is reasonably generic, she can structure her searches and the content on her website to support greater success within a much more narrow market segment,” McCabe says.

KI Technology Group wants to expand its business in the Lansing area, so one team member helped create some geographically specific search engine parameters.  Another helped compile a list of prospective clients, one of Lynch’s biggest goals. 

“We focused on attorneys and accountants with one person who gave us some really good demographic data about those organizations so we could pick the ones that would best fit our target market,” says Lynch.

The Edward Lowe Foundation coordinates these strategic research teams in Michigan, Florida and Kansas.  Executive director Mark Lange says it’s vital for CEO’s to be able to form strategies to analyze their markets and their competitors.

“If they can’t get past that (then) capital, exporting, outsourcing; all those traditional things that help a business don’t really matter,” Lange says.

The teams typically work with CEO’s for about three weeks.  Lange says it’s important to find people who are willing to be coached and don’t feel intimidated by the experience.  

“It’s like re-fueling a jet in mid-air,” Lange explains.  “You know, you’ve got to catch up with them; speed, altitude, and then hook up with them for just a time and then kind of re-connect with them and give them what they need and let them loose again.”

Lange is convinced that small business entrepreneurs who get this type of specialized attention will create the jobs their communities need to survive.  But unlike some economic gardeners who believe solely in investing in homegrown companies, Lange believes there’s also a place for attracting some outside industries.  The key, Lange says, is balance.

KI Technology Group’s Linda Lynch says she found the economic gardening pilot program worthwhile.  She’s trying to apply some of what she learned to one of her highest priorities: attracting more companies who’ll commit to signing monthly service contracts. 

“So, we’re focused on growing that particular part of our customer base,” Lynch explains.  “And in the last two years, we’ve grown that monthly recurring revenue by more than 150 percent.”

Business leaders like Lynch will have a chance to talk about their own successes this week.  The National Economic Gardening Conference starts Tuesday in Grand Rapids.  It’s the first time the event has been held in Michigan.  It’s also expected to draw the largest attendance in its 10-year history; a testament to how economic gardening is becoming a mainstream practice across the country.

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