A new program to help individuals in leadership roles at local businesses better connect with Village of DeForest staff in now in motion.
Community Development Director Alex Allon and Village Administrator Bill Chang have been drivers behind the new business retention and expansion program, through which they plan to visit 18 local businesses by year’s end.
“By engaging with local employers, we can set our economic development priorities to make sure we’re addressing the most pressing needs,” Allon said.
The visits during this first year of the program will mostly focus on larger, primary companies. As the program adds capacity, more small business support will be added.
The goal of the visits is to help village staff better understand the needs and concerns of area employers, get their perspectives about local government and how it supports economic development, get a sense of challenges the business community is facing, and work together to improve the business climate in DeForest.
“This type of program is not necessarily geared towards grants, incentives, or assistance,” Allon said. “There are things we kind of know, but it helps us to hear it from the businesses to better tailor what we focus on at the village, whether it be affordable workforce housing, childcare options, or better transportation to surrounding communities.”
Allon and Chang want to provide local employers with an open line of communication to village staff, such as if a business wants to expand and has questions about available land in DeForest.
The information gathered over the year will be compiled into an annual report, which Allon hopes will offer a good snapshot of how the local economy is performing, which will be presented to the Village Board and Committee of the Whole.
That may end up having budget implications, such as the village allocating funds to promote more affordable workforce housing. It could also help foster relationships between businesses and the Parks and Recreation Department for sponsorship opportunities.
“It could really touch a lot of different areas in village government,” Allon said.
Though, sensitive to the fact these businesses are in a highly competitive hiring environment, the specific details of any information they choose to share with village staff will be kept confidential and data in the annual report will be anonymized.
The first two businesses slated for a visit are EVCO Plastics—a plastics manufacturing and injection molding company—and Hooper Corporation—a manufacturer of heating, air conditioning, and plumbing equipment.
Bell Laboratories, which deals with rodent control technology, is on the docket for March.
Part of the impetus behind the program was the number of new faces at village hall, Allon said. He’s only been with the village for five months himself, Administrator Chang just around a year, and Finance Director Carol Herwig just under a year.
“Programs like this are a hallmark of economic development and a tool staff rely strongly upon,” Allon said. “Bill and I thought it would be a great opportunity as newer faces on staff to get out in the community to understand what the economy looks like and the needs of local employers. Right now we have thoughts about what those needs are, but now we will get to see it concretely going forward.”
Every business approached to participate so far has been on board with the program, Allon said.
“Savvy business leaders want more ways to get into the ears of village leadership and make connections with staff,” Allon said. “Businesses want to be engaged in their community and this is another avenue for that. It’s a win-win for all involved.”
The program is tailored towards supporting existing businesses, because roughly 80% of economic growth and development in a community comes from its existing businesses, Allon said.
“Hooper Corporation prides itself on being a great community partner,” its Chief Financial Officer Bob Schaller said. “We’re excited to connect with the team at the Village of DeForest to continue that spirit of partnership.”
“As a homegrown DeForest business, we see a lot of opportunity in the near future,” EVCO Plastics Vice President of US Operations Gary Fortier said. “The timing of the business program is perfect for us.”
In addition to the goal to visit 18 local businesses, there is also a survey, for which Allon and Chang would like to receive at least 24 responses. Any local businesses looking to participate can enter a formal request on the program website at developdeforest.com/bre.
“The heart of the program is the visits to local businesses,” Chang said. “Our goal is to strengthen the relationships we’ve established and communicate with one another openly. We want to understand what challenges they face and what opportunities they have in front of them, in order to either address those at a local level or connect with partners at the regional and state levels.”