A Business Blitz in Panora last week brought praise to business owners and provided support for their continued growth.
The Midwest Partnership Economic Development Corporation (MWP) collaborated with the University of Northern Iowa’s Business & Community Services (UNI) to pilot a new approach for expressing the region’s appreciation for small business owners while also identifying opportunities to help businesses succeed. The Panora Small Business Visit Blitz, July 25-26, was an extension of MWP’s existing business retention and expansion efforts and UNI’s Regional Entrepreneurship Project (REP). The Blitz involved MWP staff, volunteers, and UNI team members dropping by small to mid-sized businesses to thank business owners for their dedication, effort, investment and contribution to the Panora area economy. They gathered at Crafty’s Coffee & Gifts on Main Street and made their way through over 60 businesses in the community.
“They were all really appreciative,” said Lynsi Pasutti, Administrative & Marketing Coordinator for Midwest Partnership, who helped conduct the visits. “We were able to reiterate what we can do as well as learn their business needs.”
Conducting the visits from Midwest Partnership along with Pasutti were Sarah Gomez, Executive Director, and Stacie Euken, Economic Development Coordinator, UNI Business & Community Services partners James Hoelscher and Karla Organist, Sherri Vaughn of IowaWORKS, Kimberly Tiefenthaler of the Iowa Small Business Development Center, along with local hosts Julie Zajicek, Panora State Bank, Kristen Crouthamel, Guthrie County State Bank Investment Center, Everett Grasty, Guthrie County Supervisor, Mark Cates, Guthrie County State Bank, Curt Thornberry, Panora Telco, and Chris Arganbright, Bryton Insurance Agency.
“My experience was positive,” Arganbright said. “One business we visited was interested in an apprenticeship program and the other had possible expansion plans in the next five years they might want help with.”
Arganbright felt the personal visits were more powerful than any written information Midwest Partnership could ever provide local businesses.
Zajicek, president at Panora State Bank, said she enjoyed getting out of the office to greet business owners and thank them for doing business in Panora.
“Businesses in a small community work hard and put in long hours to provide their services and it may be difficult to devote time to deal with specific needs,” she said. “It was good to let them know Midwest Partnership is here to help with some of those needs.”
Crouthamel was able to visit Early Morning Harvest with her group during the Blitz.
“The (Jeff) Hafner family and staff was gracious enough to give us a tour of their impressive and constantly growing facility and operations,” she said.
Crouthamel said the businesses they were able to connect with were all appreciative of the visit with most conversations gearing toward positive feedback about doing business here.
“One take away was the need for faster internet, fiber and technology in our outlying areas,” Crouthamel said.
The group visited 50 businesses during the Blitz on Tuesday and Wednesday, and another 11 on Friday. There were 17 businesses unavailable during the Blitz and 26 found no longer in business.
“We started from a list of 235 registered businesses and narrowed it down to 100 for the Blitz,” Pasutti said. “We ended up adding four, as we were out and about, totaling 104. After we omit the list of businesses no longer in business, that still gives us an impressive 78 businesses for future contacts.”
The visits were short as participants bopped in quick.
“It was casual and not too formal,” Pasutti said. “We built some relationships.”
During the visits, businesses were given a Business retention and expansion (BRE) survey and encouraged to fill it out online. The surveys are used as a tool for economic development all across the state, including Midwest Partnership’s four county region of Guthrie, Adair, Audubon and Greene counties. Typically focused on medium to large companies or leading employers, most BRE surveys are designed to identify the red flags, growth opportunities, and community issues affecting businesses in the targeted area. Regional and statewide service providers then rally around the needs of individual businesses.
“We’ve had six surveys returned,” Pasutti said, but we’re hoping to have more when they remember they haven’t done that yet.”
A drawing will be held and four survey participants will receive $25 in chamber bucks.
In addition to participating in the survey, all Panora business owners were invited to attend the Blitz’s special Profit and Marketing Mastery Dinner and Workshop at the Lake Panorama Conference Center. The free event was hosted by UNI’s Center for Business Growth and Innovation and Midwest Partnership as part of the Regional Entrepreneurship Project.
“It was a nice way to get out and meet those who keep the communities running,” said Euken. “We learned about the businesses and were able to put a name with a face.”