Understanding the Needs of All Businesses in a Workforce Area

My Point of Vue: A Personal Look at Workforce Development with Ulisse Gallo


The Backbone of the Community

Academically, I’ve always known that the bulk of the American workforce and economy can be found in small and mid-sized businesses. On a recent drive through the Northeast, from Maryland to Canada, this idea really came into focus for me.

As I passed town after town, I didn’t see skyscrapers and large office buildings. I saw Main Streets filled with mom-and-pop businesses – diners, machine shops, local markets, and family practices. I got a front row view of a slice of the American workforce that rarely gets mentioned in headlines, but is the powerhouse of the local economy and the backbone of their communities.

Each week I talk to teams at Workforce Development Boards (WDBs) around the country – metro, rural, big and small – and one of the constant, recurring challenges they share is finding ways to really understand the subset of businesses with 10-50 employees. Sometimes they call this group the invisible economy or the overlooked workforce, and the lack of visibility into their financial health, growth patterns, and resource needs makes it difficult for WDBs to identify and engage with this critical market.

Detailed business level data is one of the keys to successful Board outreach programs – this is true for all businesses, but especially those with 10-50 employees.

    • Companies in this group are growing and have a lot of moving parts, but they are small enough that the owner is personally juggling a lot of responsibilities: ordering supplies, solving IT issues, acting as HR manager, providing customer service and more.
    • They are the exact target market for the services and solutions WDBs provide, but are often too busy to hear outreach messages marketing those services.
    • Crafting a message that speaks directly to their current needs increases the chances of cutting through their overflowing inbox and building a successful connection.
    • This kind of targeted messaging is only possible with data that allows WDB Business Services personnel to sort, filter and identify specific businesses that align with specific outreach specifications, such as: financial health scores, growth or contraction indicators, geographic and demographic details, and industry and category specifications.

Generally speaking, 85% of the businesses in a local Workforce region fall into this key category. WDB Business Service Reps should ask themselves: How well do you know the businesses with 10-50 employees in your region? How clear is your visibility into their needs, wants and opportunities for growth? How broad is your reach and how effective are your communications?

Taking a strategic approach to reaching the small and mid-sized businesses in the local workforce area allows Boards to effectively and efficiently engage with the companies that are most likely to be open to their message.

After all, we want the entrepreneurs, business owners and people working on Main Street to thrive. And we never want to lose sight of the hidden economies that make up our communities.



Digging into the Data

My recent road trip took me through the Northeast region of the U.S. – home to 3.8 million businesses, but with only 10% of these having 10 or more employees. Of that subgroup, 86% (or 270,000 businesses) have 10-50 employees.

When faced with large numbers of businesses for potential outreach, WDBs can employ a ‘funnel strategy’ to narrow a list of thousands down to the dozens that are most likely to respond to the targeted message by 1) narrowly defining the project scope, 2) finetuning the contact list and 3) developing messaging that speaks to the business’s current needs.

Two key elements for targeting businesses are assessing Failure Risk and identifying activity of Growth or Contraction. Looking at businesses in the Northeast having 10 – 50 employees, we see only a very small slice are actually High Risk for failure in the next twelve months, and more than half are Low Risk.

Looking at more short-term business activity indicators, we see that 8% of businesses are showing signs of business contraction or compression, while nearly one-third of all businesses are demonstrating activity triggers indicative of growth and expansion.

By mixing and matching these business health indicators, we can start to funnel the data results into very specific outreach categories:

    • Low Financial Stress + Growing = Great partners for hiring programs, advisory councils, or training cohorts
    • Medium Financial Stress + Growing = Businesses ready for grant funding and other resources to subsidize expansion or hiring
    • Medium Financial Stress + Contracting = Employers needing direct layoff aversion assistance

To further refine results into a highly targeted outreach list, workforce developers can layer in additional filters and indicators that closely align with the outreach goals. Some factors to consider are industry sectors and sub-sectors, geographic boundaries, demographic indicators, corporate structures, loan data and more.

In my conversations with Workforce Development Boards who have implemented this ‘funnel’ approach to outreach, they report increased effectiveness and higher engagement rates throughout their region and across multiple industries. How will it work for you?



Data sources: econovue and dun & Bradstreet