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BERC MAKES CONTRIBUTION TO REGIONAL MARKETING EFFORT

Buffalo's main development agency has officially committed $50,000 to a business-led regional marketing initiative and is taking steps to refocus its own mission on retaining existing companies.

The Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp.'s board of directors unanimously approved the contribution to Buffalo Niagara Enterprise. In return, the city will continue to occupy a seat on BNE's board of directors. Agency officials learned Wednesday that Mayor Anthony M. Masiello will represent the city on a board that will steer the five-year, $27 million marketing initiative.

In a related development, BERC President Alan H. DeLisle said that as the BNE gears up to attract new companies to the region, the city agency will place a greater emphasis on retention.

"We want to spend more time taking care of the businesses that are currently here," DeLisle said. "We need to improve our effectiveness and productivity in this area, because we sometimes find that we're not in the loop early enough."

The BERC board voted Wednesday to retain a Pennsylvania-based consulting company that has developed retention programs for communities in northwestern Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and other regions.

Business Retention Technologies Inc. will be paid up to $60,000 to develop a new outreach system based on programs that have been used in other regions. BRT officials said they will also train agency staffers and have an "intensive hands-on" presence in Buffalo during all critical phases of the program.

"The idea is to systematically get out there and talk with businesses day-in-and-day-out," said BRT Director Laith A. Wardi. "We need to make sure we have a system that keeps businesses in our backyards."

The program will include the creation of profiles of businesses that are in high-growth or high wealth-creating sectors. BRT will use existing data and will develop a new business-retention questionnaire to amass information that will ultimately be used to create a comprehensive database.

Wardi said training outreach professionals is at the heart of the retention effort. Through role-playing exercises and instructional seminars, staffers will be exposed to effective interviewing techniques and other strategies for making them more responsive to the needs of businesses.

Brenda Pera, director of the Team Pennsylvania Business Calling Program in Harrisburg, Pa., worked with Wardi to developing a business-retention program for eight counties in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Wardi claimed that most business-retention efforts fail because staffers don't make it a daily priority.

"Once all the hoopla and publicity is over, people don't want to do the mundane job of getting out there and talking to businesses," he said.

Ronald W. Coan, executive director of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, emphasized the importance of making sure that the city has adequate resources -- including available land -- to accommodate expanding businesses before it launches a comprehensive outreach effort.

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