Isn’t it time your community became more business friendly?
The Business Vitality Initiative (BVI) measures the business-friendliness of your community, compares the results to other communities, helps you come up with strategies for improvement and launches your community into action.
CIEL recognizes that many communities are worn out by long consultation processes and complicated research reports. The BVI uses a unique questionnaire, simple graphic reports, and two short, productive community meetings to gauge your community’s capacity for supporting entrepreneurs and expanding business growth. Click here to watch CIEL's video on the BVI. Click here for AlbertaAgriculture video on Vulcan, Alberta BVI on YouTube.
"The BVI is extremely effective. I've seen the community focus and work toward achieving their action items, based on the BVI. This program is an excellent community capacity building tool.”
- Tracey Whiting, College of the Rockies, Cranbrook, B.C.
Contact CIEL for a sample copy of our reports.
Click here for AlbertaAgriculture video on Vulcan, Alberta BVI on YouTube.
Alberta loves the BVI
Government of Alberta independent evaluation of 2008-09 BVI Pilot (more than 100 participants surveyed by Malatest & Assoc.)
Contact CIEL for more info or a copy of the evaluation
Do young adults (25-34) find this community attractive? Do we have a business-friendly council? Do business & education communities work together to provide timely, convenient training? Do businesses market their products jointly? Do lenders in the community understand the needs of entrepreneurs?
If you're not asking questions like those and the other 95 questions in the BVI questionnaire, it's unlikely you’re maximizing the business potential of your community.
Many communities say they want to attract more businesses, but they are often unsure of what kinds of actions will actually create a more positive business climate. Consequently, communities often act blindly and unproductively, or they don’t act at all, hoping that by some good luck a new industry will decide to move to town.
But a vibrant business climate does not happen by chance in small cities and rural communities—you have to be pro-active. The first step is to identify the ways in which your community is friendly or unfriendly to business. Those factors are quite different than they were even ten years ago.
A key feature of the fast-changing global economy is the increased need to spot opportunities, harness them and quickly adapt. This is true for communities and the many enterprises that make up the community. More than ever, communities are succeeding because of the ability to adapt, and the personal initiative and creativity of residents.
The BVI encourages local decision-makers to look at (among other things) local connections between business, government and other groups, attitudes towards small business, and identify untapped opportunities.
Another factor stressed in the BVI is whether your community is attractive to people in the 25-34 age group. This age group is likely to “stick” to your community once planted, unlike younger age groups. They are also an age group likely to buy real estate, start businesses, and replenish leadership in your community. With the advent of the knowledge economy and the global internet economy, more and more jobs can be done anywhere. As this trend continues, people seeking a place to raise a family or start a business are less likely to look for a place where there are lots of jobs or a large local market. Instead, they will move to a place they like, and they will do their job from that community or create a new job there.
In other words, business friendliness is about much more than regulations, taxes, and real estate. It’s about how socially and culturally attractive the community is to outsiders (and to the community’s own youth, who are likely to leave a community they consider to be uninteresting).
CIEL has researched the characteristics of communities that attract “knowledge workers” and young people and also communities that have made successful transitions from single industry to more diverse economies. Many of the questions in the BVI questionnaire deal with these factors.
"The BVI really helped pinpoint the issues we weren’t communicating well on.”
- Ron McRae, Mayor, Kimberley, B.C.
As a result of the BVI process, other communities have undertaken some of the following things:
For a BVI success story, click here.
"The tools provide important benchmarks and are measurable – something communities need. Besides that, the processes are fun, easy to understand and engaging.”
- Mike Dalmau, High Country Management Enterprises and BVI participant, Acheron, Australia
The central feature of the BVI is a 100-question survey which asks citizens to rate (in person or online) their community in everything from availability of skilled workers to the vibrancy of the downtown core, from access to business capital to safety on the streets, from recreational facilities to internet connectivity. The questionnaire also gives participants an opportunity to record their observations about the community.
The process also includes focus groups, where participants can discuss the problems, strengths, and opportunities in their communities.
CIEL then produces an easy-to-read report, with unique graphs and scoring, rating the community in the ten areas of business vitality and outlining the trends in participants’ written comments. Based on input from the community, CIEL offers a dozen possible short-term actions as well as long-term actions that the community might consider undertaking.
Then, through an engaging community process conducted over one evening, CIEL helps the community focus on the results, set priorities, and build action groups to move the community toward greater business vitality. Communities working with CIEL’s BVI have experienced a 90%+ success rate in moving to action (2006 evaluation - based on community-determined BVI actions completed by the community within 1-2 years).
The BVI process has two parts. In the first phase (the assessment phase) participants fill out a questionnaire and take part in a focus group. In the second, or focus and action phase, the community is invited to view CIEL’s report on the first phase, and plan actions based on the report.
This is a meeting with 20-50 invitees, representing the business sector (50%), community leaders (25%), and a cross-section of citizens (25%).
The participants fill out a questionnaire administered by the BVI team and then take part in a focus group discussion about issues related to the business climate of the community.
The questionnaire is a list of 100 statements about the community, based on key indicators that are known to affect business. Participants are asked to rate their degree of agreement to each statement on a scale of one to five.
The BVI is based on the perceptions of community members, rather than on statistics about the community. For a discussion of why we use this approach, and an explanation of why we can develop useful conclusions based on the perceptions of relatively small numbers of people, click here and scroll to the FAQ entitled "Why does CIEL use such small sample sizes?"
The BVI questionnaire is divided into ten categories of subject matter:
1. Opportunities and Attitudes
The ability of the community to recognize, take action, and follow through on available opportunities.
2. Quality of Life
The ability of the community to attract & retain businesses & citizens, especially people who are young, skilled workers.
3. Education and Training
The ability to develop entrepreneurship skills & attitudes in the non-business population, and upgrade skills in the business community
The ability of a community & its citizens to think of and develop new ideas, adapt to changes, recognize unusual and new opportunities and technologies, and share theirideas with like-minded people.
5. Leadership, Teamwork, and Networking
The capacity of a community to take action of an idea or opportunity as a whole group, with good leadership, effective teamwork, and clear communication.
6. Role of Government and Organizations
The ability of local governments and other organizations to work with business to design processes and programs that make it as easy as possible to start or expand a business.
7. Capital and Funding
Theability of the community to financially support entrepreneurs through ensuring access to capital, and educating businesses about financial management andsupports.
8. Infrastructure and Business Services
The ability to provide necessary and high quality support services and infrastructure to business at reasonable costs, allowing businesses to be as competitive as possible.
9. Communications and Connectivity
The ability of businesses to connect with each other and with outside markets.
10 Markets and Marketing
The ability of business to capture and expand markets locally, regionally, and outside the region, thus keeping and building local wealth.
When the focus group discussion is complete and everyone has filled out the questionnaire (in person at a meeting, or online) CIEL compiles the results and creates an easy-to-read, graphically interesting report (a full 80-page report and short summary report are both available) which includes possible actions (both short-term and long-term) based on the questionnaire and focus group results.
The report is then sent to everyone who participated, and may be circulated more widely.
“The BVI brought the community together and pulled out priorities, allowed us to focus. It served as a catalyst for other initiatives. In addition it left the actions up to the community and allowed for whole community to focus.”
- Karen Hamling, Area Development Board, Nakusp, B.C.
The focus and action phase consists of a meeting to which the entire community is invited, held four to eight weeks after the assessment session.
At this meeting, in a structured process, a facilitator asks the community to vote on priority actions – either strengths the community wishes to build on, or weaknesses the community wishes to address – based on the results of the questionnaires and the discussion groups. Each community member participating is also asked to vote only on those actions he or she is willing to put his/her time and energy into. CIEL has found a far greater likelihood of success using this process.
Following that priority-setting exercise, a “reality check” is performed in small groups in order to determine if there is actually enough resources and energy in the community to move forward with each potential action (normally no more than 3 actions). If a specific action is voted as a priority by the group, but there is no one at the meeting willing to volunteer to take it forward, that action is dropped. Those designated for action are those that received many votes and have a core group willing to work on it.
To carry out the BVI, a local steering committee takes on the role of community sponsor, assisting in the coordination of the BVI locally, and inviting the participant survey group. In addition, the community sponsor helps to organize the meetings and arranges media and publicity. The steering committee should have representatives from a local economic development organization, the municipality, business, and other community organizations.
The community sponsor also plays an important role keeping the actions on track after the Focus and Action Phase by providing support for the action groups. This could take the form of offering meeting space, writing a grant proposal, etc. In effect, the community sponsor acts like a Shetland Sheepdog, ensuring the process is herded in the right direction. However, CIEL has found the process to be most effective when the action groups (made up of energized community members) are supported by the community sponsor, rather than the sponsor trying to do everything.