Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Jefferson County Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.

Even though 2018 is only a bit over halfway “in the books,” according to the calendar, it’s already time to start planning for 2019. That’s especially true for those cyclical reports and projects that don’t keep regular calendar schedules.

In addition to its regular fall attention to fiscal (January to December) budgeting and strategic planning for the coming year, the Economic Development Alliance has one important report that is drawn from information generated on a September-to-August basis. That means the 2017-18 report year is drawing to a close and it’s time to develop a new questionnaire for 2018-19.

This report is a (confidential) record of responses from Jefferson County’s industrial executives to a series of about 10-12 key questions developed by Alliance President Lou Ann Nisbett. She’s been conducting these straightforward, in-person surveys, in conjunction with annual industry visits, since assuming leadership of the community’s private economic development organization in September 2006. Maybe that’s why the survey cycles begin in September!

In any event, these survey visits help her keep in touch with management of the Jefferson County manufacturing operations (the smallest up to the largest) that choose to participate. There are about 50 executives who do.

It’s a function of standard BR&E (business retention and expansion) for economic developers to stay well-informed about their local industries and to build rapport with the executives and/or plant managers. And the Alliance’s long-standing BR&E program is recognized as one of the best in the state.

In Jefferson County, the annual surveys communicate to the Alliance information such as the industries’ current employment levels, turnover rates, plans for growth/expansion, available jobs, and skills needed. Additionally, they ask: Is there something the Alliance needs to be doing to help?

The information provided serves to help direct several Alliance programs. It’s also useful, in the case of planned expansions, in making sure the local executives know in advance about the potential of incentive funds available for capital investments and primary job creation or retention. This is a valuable expansion element that sometimes has to be relayed to corporate officials headquartered out of state and who are unaware of the inducements offered in Jefferson County.

Annual industry surveys here are basically short question-and-answer sessions. But the data collected fill a tall-but-not-impossible order in community economic development: Know your industries. Then you can plan accordingly.