By: Brett Wiler –
At first, I probably come off as laid-back, easy-going, and agreeable. But inside, there’s a fire burning, an intense desire to win, an intense thrill from competing. It’s a cliché, but when my feet hit the floor every morning, my first thought is, ‘how can we get a win today?’
I’m Brett Wiler. Since I stepped foot in City Hall as Erie’s first-ever Business Development Officer, Mayor Schember, his administration, and my colleagues at the Department of Economic and Community Development have been methodically trying to put up wins.
What’s winning in the context of this administration and the City of Erie today? Winning is activating our shared vision. Winning is fostering an environment where good, family-sustaining jobs are in abundance. The Mayor believes that creating a community full of opportunity for meaningful employment is the remedy to the oft-cited ills of Erie: crime, poverty, hopelessness, and blight.
Those of us working towards that end recognize that meaningful employment is more than just about compensation; it’s about creating a sense of belonging, purpose, improving self-confidence, enhancing family stability, and serving as a catalyst of hope and health in our lives. In addition, those high-quality jobs also lead to an increase in tax revenue, improved public services, and more abundant resources for our city.
During the interview process for the Business Development Officer, the Mayor outlined his directives in terms of how my time could be used most effectively. In simplest terms, the strategy for this role was to focus:
50% of my efforts on supporting Erie’s existing business base
40% of my efforts on helping to foster an entrepreneurial and innovative business community
10% of my efforts on attracting outside investors to Erie
At this point, you may be asking: What are you actually doing when you’re visiting these businesses? That’s a great question. In order to create a city where family-sustaining jobs are the norm, it’s not necessarily effective to spend as much time as possible applying a bunch of random fixes, rather we want to spend time efficiently and systematically solving key problems.
So, Here is the Plan
First, through direct, face-to-face outreach with company decision-makers, I foster stronger relationships and trust between City Hall and businesses located within the city. Reinforcing the city’s business foundation is Economic Development 101. So, ensuring Erie’s established businesses and startups have the tools and resources available to them to prosper and grow is my primary objective. It’s critical that we advocate for and reinvigorate the businesses that have already planted their flags in our community—those companies that have invested in Erie.
Second, our department is looking to increase our lending and grant-making capacity. The Department of Economic and Community Development at City Hall currently has three revolving loan funds and a recently created grant-making fund, the Flagship Fund. We are focused on building those funds so we can increase the flow of capital in the city, work with private lenders to fill gaps in financing, and ensure the businesses in the city have the financial resources to grow and scale their enterprise.
Third, it is imperative that our office increases the access and flow of information to business owners and would-be entrepreneurs. As the Economic Development Ombudsman for City Hall, I’ve created a comprehensive economic development Resource Guide, capturing the breadth of services available to help entrepreneurs and business owners address issues related to workforce development, land and building needs, access to capital, product development, marketing, strategy, and more. I’m also in the process of developing a weekly blog that highlights the resources, events, programs and think pieces that can help our business community achieve long-term success.
Lastly, before the city can attract outside investment, we need to better understand our regional strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. To do so, we’ve been working tirelessly to create the first-ever city-wide Investment Prospectus. The Investment Prospectus is a hybrid-document, which serves as a guide to potential investors looking for opportunity in Erie; one part marketing piece, one part local economic analysis, and one part investment memorandum. Initially, this document was being created so that Erie could take advantage of our recently designated Opportunity Zones. However, the process has been more valuable than we could ever imagine. It has forced us to ask difficult questions; how will we address income and racial inequality in the city? How will we formulate a strategy that is inclusive and leads to equitable wealth generation for all segments of our community? What are the true assets in the city? And, how do we not just chase capital, but unlock the appropriate capital for our region on a local, regional, and national scale? We will continue to develop the Prospectus and consider these important issues. Stay tuned for more.
How Can You Work With Me?
During a recent visit with an entrepreneur, he asked, “How can I help?” I paused for a moment, unsure of how to answer. As I thought about it more, I realized he could help by connecting me with other entrepreneurs and businesses that could use some assistance. So this is what I’m asking you to do: Reach out to us. Invite us to your facility. Share your ideas with us. We are a stronger city, and region, when we work together. I look forward to working with all of you. And I look forward to putting up some wins.
You can contact me any time at email@example.com (UPDATE 9/27/19: Please contact Jennifer Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org)