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‘Economic gardening’ concept could offer way to grow more jobs

The Lincoln Economic Development Association (LEDA) is looking to plant a garden, but not the kind filled with fruits and vegetables that grow in your backyard.

The Lincolnton-based organization is actually hoping to “grow” existing businesses, if they want, with “economic gardening,” a not-so-new concept that seems to be just now be sweeping across the nation.

Economic gardening was originally started in the City of Littleton, Colo. 23 years ago. The idea was to grow local jobs through entrepreneurial activity rather than recruiting.

Economic gardening breaks businesses down into three groups: stage one, 1-9 employees; stage two, 10-99 employees; stage three 100-500 employees; and stage four, more than 500 employees and the employer is considered a “large business.”

But the true focus on economic gardening is the stage-two companies, which have $1 million worth of sales, wanting to expand.

LEDA Executive Director Barry Matherly said Lincoln County has 283 companies in stage two.

“(Stage two) companies have the potential to grow very large very quickly,” he said.

“Economic gardening identifies those companies in the local community and then tries to assist them in being able to grow.”

Some business owners want to grow, but not sure how to start the process or where to get their information. That is where LEDA could step in.

LEDA would focus on finding resources for the stage-two businesses to help them grow, whether it is through private investors or meeting with executives of similar companies.

LEDA could also purchase software that would help businesses with their research one step further by providing demographic and statistical information.

“The reason we want to support these businesses in Lincoln County and Lincolnton is, one, it’s more cost effective to work with them since they are already here in the county,” he said.

“The other big thing is companies that typically grow in the community give back to the community.”

The estimated cost for the economic gardening program is $70,200, broken down into $50,400 for staff costs, $3,000 for overhead and $16,800 for the database.

LEDA’s Board of Directors approved the program with the contingency that funding is available from outside sources.

LEDA will ask for funding from the city and county, along with other organizations.

Ideally, LEDA would like to hire someone to lead the economic gardening program by August.

“If you are able to grow these companies here, then they will be able to build buildings here, employ more people here and also be more tied to this community,” Matherly said.