Here we are. It’s February. The days are still woefully short, but the promise of longer days ahead keeps us chugging through the dank and dark, anxious for the spring thaw to arrive once again.

But more than freezing weather, or Presidents Day or being the shortest month on the calendar, February is primarily celebrated as the month of romance. February would not be complete without a visit from Cupid, the God of desire, attraction, and affection.

Once Cupid shoots his arrow of love, you’ll find yourself doing that annual last-minute hustle for flowers, candy, cards, and other sweet nothings to show the love of your life how much you love them. You can even get your pet a Valentine’s Day gift, but I have to tell you that Amazon has already sold out of their special K-9 Valentine’s Day Gift Basket. Even dogs deserve love this time of the year.

This happy exchange of love is big business and growing by leaps and bounds. Projected spending per person has skyrocketed from $108 a person in 2010 to $146 in 2016. A new survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF) projects U.S. consumers will spend a total of $18.2 billion on their valentines this year. Over $4 billion of that will be for jewelry with another $2 billion spent on flowers. Holy matrimony! No wonder I am single.

Cupid is sometimes depicted as being blindfolded, thus the saying love is blind. (Also the poem, “I don’t make love by the garden gate, for love is blind but the neighbors ain’t.” But I digress). Which brings me to the connection to economic developers.

Economic Developers always say they love their businesses. But, how do they express their love so they stay connected and keep a business from moving their affection to someone else. Like Cupid, are economic developers blind? What can economic developers do to maintain a relationship with existing businesses so that they can grow old together?

If it is the thought that counts – and we all know that’s true – then let’s look at what economic developers can do to show their love for the businesses in their community and keep them from finding a new love outside their community.

Let’s start with the easy one. Business retention and expansion programs – be they formal or informal – are a sincere way to show your appreciation and affection for area businesses. Business retention and expansion is not a noun. It is a verb. It isn’t something you get, its something you do. I’m no marriage counselor, but like all loving relationships, start by showing up and having a conversation that is open and meaningful. Ask sincere questions and go into depth if the opportunity arises. Show that you really care about their problems and needs. Then follow up with some real love, like assistance in expanding markets, local purchasing programs and effective tools that promote growth and profitability.

If you don’t have a BRE program or if it has gotten a little rusty from lack of regular use, you might consider getting it back in play this month.

Here are my top 10 ideas that will sweeten your program and be far more appreciated by your local businesses than a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates.

  1. Introduce new, more effective ways to use your social media to promote local businesses internally and externally.
  2. Identify and celebrate milestones that your businesses have achieved.
  3. Start an Economic Gardening program with the Lowe Foundation to help your successful businesses grow.
  4. Testify before state legislatures about the importance of tourism, especially in rural areas, and to fund them accordingly.
  5. Coordinate business forums to discuss common issues and resolutions.
  6. Explore innovative new ways to access capital to expand small businesses and start-ups.
  7. Encourage youth to get off their apps and shop at local businesses.
  8. Discuss the importance of business disaster preparation and develop and circulate a community plan.
  9. Write personal notes to businesses thanking them for being a part of the community.
  10. Promote your businesses with an appreciation dinner or other event.

The usual results of investing in a relationship – with sweet treats or a customized year-round BRE program – are more open communication, a closer connection about the things that matter and being there for the long term.

I grew up in Texas. And in the Lone Star State, we have a saying that you may love your dog but if you don’t pet them every once in a while, it will be hard to keep them under the porch.

Where there is great love, there is a healthy community.  Show the love for your dog, for the love of your life, for your local businesses and for your community. Make every day Valentine’s Day when it comes to economic development. It’s the gift that keeps giving year round. Only then can Cupid take off his blindfold and live happily ever after.

– Maury