Krawczak: We want to know who you know

I’m glad I know you, but what I really want to know is who you know. This is something the economic development director in our office has said before and it is a perfect opening statement for this column. Among other responsibilities, the Chamber of Commerce is in the business of economic development. And we could use your help.

Economic development is not easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. It requires solid relationships that are built over time. And that’s where I’m asking for your help today.

The other day I was at a family dinner and in a casual conversation it came up that the owner of a large business in southern Michigan owned a cottage on a lake in Northeast Michigan. I asked my relative if he minded making an introduction between that business owner and our economic development staff at the Chamber because it could possibly develop into a new opportunity for the region. He said he wouldn’t mind at all. And that’s how easy a new relationship will form. A relationship that might be tremendously beneficial to the area.

Reflecting on that dinner conversation, I have to believe that if I wasn’t even aware of connections within my own family (shame on me!), I have to imagine there are hundreds of possible connections out there that exist between folks in this community (YOU!) and potential economic development opportunities. Developing those relationships are often how things get done, projects get started and growth occurs.

If you are familiar with the social networking site LinkedIn, then you know how this works. That site is the online equivalent to what we are asking for. You can see who your contacts are connected to and then you can ask for introductions. I’ve asked for several introductions on LinkedIn and have made many introductions to others. It works. If it didn’t work, LinkedIn wouldn’t exist. We need that kind of network to work for us locally for economic development.

Knowing there are untapped networks means there are unexplored opportunities. We want to reach out to those people and create relationships with them. We want to know if they are interested in expanding their businesses or if the opportunity exists with them to help our current businesses expand. They might know others interested in owning vacation property in the area. They might have their own contacts for us that could provide new revenue streams for our existing businesses. The ways in which each of our personal and business networks could help this area grow are endless.

At first glance, this appears to be a pretty big ask on my part. People don’t necessarily want to give away their family and friend’s information to what might appear to be solicitations. But believe me when I say this is not a solicitation. It is an important part of how economic development works. We work hard to create and maintain relationships that can be mutually beneficial. I urge you to think through your contacts. Your friends, family, neighbors, and others and look for possible economic development connections that might help this community grow.

If we don’t know who these people are then we can’t have the conversation. If the conversation isn’t happening, chances are pretty good nothing will come of it. Your help in this is important and I do hope we have some people choose to step up to my request and provide us assistance in finding the right contacts that might help us achieve some of our economic growth goals.

The contact I stumbled across at my family dinner might not develop into something. But it might. And it’s worth a try. Just like asking for your help is worth a try. Because nothing happens if you don’t at least try.

Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.