Anyone who has ever established and sustained a garden will tell you, success lies in good soil preparation, choosing the right plants for the location and regular tending. Without this, one of two things happen – the garden dies or it grows out of control with some plants dominating and others withering.

Gardening provides valuable lessons to governments of all levels about how provide the right support to grow and sustain a thriving business sector in their area.

Governments know the bedrock of any community economy is a healthy small-to-medium (SME) business sector, even if their attention is often captured by bigger, more influential employers.

SMEs are drivers of economic growth (and sustainability in the downturns), precisely because they are small enough to be nimble, brave enough to be innovative and independent enough to allow creative solutions to bloom.

Local governments looking to reinvigorate their SME sectors in the current tough environment can struggle to offer the right mix of economic development support – the soil development, if you will. It is, however, worth the effort because the return on investment is significant.

Countless studies have looked at the impact of targeted economic development around the world and the best programs can produce up to an $8 return for every dollar invested.

To get the best returns the approach needs to be strategic, targeted and sustained. Funding initiatives in a piecemeal way – such as focusing on a technological or management fad, or a shiny new support program may get a short-term result, but usually doesn’t lead to a flourishing SME sector in the long term.

So, how can you avoid the problem of poor planning, initiatives that don’t get off the ground or bright ideas that die too quickly? Go to the garden.

We use a framework known as Economic Gardening to ensure that when we cultivate business support in a region, we are picking the right approach for the right area.

Economic Gardening was a term coined in the 1980s and has evolved and growth to mean the use of a defined and strategic methodology that ensures you provide support within the social, economic and geographic context relevant to the business.

At a local government level, this mean an information campaign showcasing the holistic services on offer, engaging with the stakeholders and business owners to identify the areas of greatest need. The development of a portfolio of services that can be offered with an emphasis on facilitating business growth over time.

These services can include diagnostic assessments, management training for business owners and managers, ongoing mentoring and access to growth opportunities. A trellis of business support so they can safely stretch and grow.

Economic Gardening makes a long-term difference, helping businesses to remain rooted in their community, and usually attracting new firms who can see what it means to flourish in a particular area.  In 2020, we look will be working with Perth local governments to help make the environment for SMEs more welcoming – and ensure all businesses can thrive.


Phil Kemp

Phil is the Chief Executive at Business Foundations, a small business expert, commercialisation consultant, an innovator, advisor to governments, public speaker and blogger.

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