When I was a Business Retention and Expansion Officer for the regional economic development organization, it was my job to connect with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Central Alberta, identify their needs, pressure points, and obstacles to growth and support business sustainability by connecting them to tools and resources and investment/alliance opportunities.

At almost every business I visited, I was impressed by how incredibly hard SME owners work. Many of them are husband/wife teams who work upwards of 70-80 hours per week and haven’t had a vacation in years. Sometimes I could almost feel them vibrating with the intensity of their effort, pushing uphill with all their might in their highly competitive industry fraught with labour, cash flow, productivity and regulatory challenges.

The thing that most of these folks did not know was that there is help out there. As an SME, you might be completely unaware that there are government initiatives, grants, programs and supports available that can help move your business objectives further forward with half the effort. Additionally, connecting to other businesses in your industry, or a related one, can employ the “together we all win” principle that can assist with your cash flow, productivity and labour needs. There are not-for-profit organizations and private business consulting firms that exist solely to help you navigate the regulatory environment and maximize your market impact. But, when you’re working alone, doing your best to get ahead, you don’t know about these things, or even where to find out about them.

That’s what your local economic developer is there for: to connect you to the services and support you need to actually get ahead. Economic development is many things and has many facets; one of the most important things a local ED organization does, in my opinion, is assist local businesses by connecting them to opportunity and support. It’s very worth your while to invest 120 minutes in a business visit with your economic development officer. These folks are here to help, and their services are almost always free.

Don’t know where to find your local economic developer? Call your municipal office. They either have an economic development department in house, or they can connect you to the ED organization responsible for your community. Or, in Alberta, you can contact the Economic Development Association of Alberta at 1-866-671-8182 and they will refer you.

Relationship with your local economic developers is a key component in the “work smarter, not harder” strategy. Try it; you might just get a vacation this year!