By Jenny McNeece, Vincennes Sun-Commercial

Knox County Indiana Economic Development, in partnership with the Knox County Chamber of Commerce, is looking to deepen its relationship with area businesses in an effort to grow the local economy.

Officials with both organizations this week will be sending out a survey to more than 30 local businesses as part of a new Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) initiative, one looking to strengthen connections and, possibly, be of help with any ongoing struggles.

Chris Pfaff, president of Knox Economic Development, said many of the targeted local business and industry leaders are ones he simply hasn’t had an opportunity to visit with in his now more than two years at the organization’s helm. Partnering with the Chamber, too, allowed them to include smaller businesses, specifically ones in the food and beverage and hospitality industries, thereby broadening the reach even more.

“We’re really appreciative and excited to be working with Chamber,” he said. “Most organizations like ours focus on advanced manufacturing, heavier industry. So the Chamber will allow us to double the number of companies we can reach.”

Pfaff said the targeted businesses vary by size and industry, “running the gamut.”

The hope is that the survey can facilitate more in-depth conversations among the entities, allowing Knox Economic Development and the Chamber to identify — and possibly help with — things like barriers to growth and expansion plans.

“We want to have a good relationship with these businesses so we’re in a position to help them grow — so if there is an opportunity for expansion, they think to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, what can you do to help?’ ” Pfaff said.

“And we want to make sure they know we appreciate their investment in Knox County, too.”

Knox Economic Development’s BR&E program, Pfaff said, is fundamental to retaining and expanding a broad base of businesses and services in Knox County; local companies are “valuable economic and employment assets.”

The survey, he hopes, will glean information like growth plans, barriers to expansion as well as their feelings on everything from the cost of doing business here to amenities like transportation, utilities, internet service and even childcare.

All businesses’ answers will be kept confidential, Pfaff said, but the data will be turned over to the Purdue Center for Regional Development, aggregated and put into a report for both Knox Economic Development and the Chamber to use to further their respective business connections.

Too, they’ll be looking for trends in the data, such as common problems being experienced by local business leaders.

“If we learn of a specific challenge a company is facing, it’s our job to try to help them,” Pfaff said. “We can’t solve everything, but one example might be if we had a company that imported raw materials; the duties on that can be quite high. So if we can help a company to become a sub zone of the Foreign Trade Zone, then that program can help to reduce costs, in certain situations.

“Or maybe a company is having a local or state regulatory issue — perhaps we can help facilitate that. It’s not uncommon for us to pick up a phone and call state officials to help local companies through a process they’re having a challenge with.”

A local task force was formed to initiate the program and is comprised of members from many organizations, including Purdue Extension, Vincennes Water Utilities, KCARC, the Knox County Soil & Water Conservation District, Vincennes University, Indiana Small Business Development Center, Ceres Solutions, the Downtown Vincennes Association, Southwest Indiana Workforce Board, the Vincennes Community School Corp., and the mayors of both Bicknell and Vincennes.

And the initiative is something Pfaff expects Knox Economic Development to continue in the future, all in an effort to make sure BR&E remains among their primary focuses.

“We do BR&E every year, every month, every week,” he said. “A large majority of job creation comes from existing businesses, so BR&E is where we should be spending the majority of our time.”

Pfaff said he hopes to see some results from the BR&E survey by the second quarter of this year.

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