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In 2017, try responsive, touchable, flexible local suppliers

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The nation has decided it will not be business as usual as we head into 2017, so maybe it's time for your business to take heed and take a fresh look at its strategies and direction for the coming year.

In the Lehigh Valley, we are fortunate to have a solid and diverse base of businesses.

Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. recently noted that manufacturing has taken over as the largest subsector of the Lehigh Valley's $37 billion gross domestic product. Other contributing sectors include transportation and warehousing; finance, insurance and real estate; professional and business services; health care; education services and social assistance; and entertainment, accommodation and food services.

Something that many professionals may not be aware is that although we are home to about 15,000 businesses, the federal districts that encompass the Lehigh Valley extend beyond Lehigh and Northampton counties and show almost 44,000 businesses registered.

The difference? Many smaller businesses expand and contract using independent contractors rather than paid employees.

So what does this information have to do with 2017 strategies?

A closer look at the resources companies need to maintain and grow here in the Greater Lehigh Valley shows a key underutilized tactic – local sourcing. Companies large and small grow and prosper when they forge strong buyer-supplier relationships close to home.

One reason this approach tends be overlooked is that developing this relationship takes work and time.

Smaller companies find it difficult – if not impossible – to get a foot inside the door at larger companies; larger companies, meanwhile, find it difficult to locate the local resources they need to cut costs and downtime.

In addition to the regional economic impact of a healthy local-sourcing initiative, local sourcing helps a business build its resilience to situations outside its control.

Case in point: The crisis caused by the near-collapse of South Korea's Hanjin Shipping Co., one of the world's largest container-shipping companies.

In September, Dow Jones Business News noted, “U.S.-bound cargo has been delayed at the point of origin; cargo-laden Hanjin ships are unable to get into U.S. ports. Already delivered cargo sits unhandled, clogging ports and occupying containers needed elsewhere.”

In an extreme situation like this, the supplying company has no face and little or no accountability. It may have sophisticated online ordering and customer service; however, odds are a less sophisticated local supplier is available, extremely touchable and generally concerned about a client's success.

For example, a local small business was contracted by a larger international firm to provide support to a Lehigh Valley operation. The small business, once in the door, was afforded other opportunities once its capabilities had been established.

There was an opportunity to submit a proposal for additional business. The offer was accepted and led to additional support for two other U.S. locations.

The bidding process came down to this local business and a national firm with offices in several major U.S. cities. No full-time hires resulted, but several other small regional businesses were engaged to provide ongoing support for this additional work.

Eight years later, this relationship continues to work well for all parties.

In another instance, a large business reconnected with a small local business, enabling the smaller business to expand its product offerings.

This has led to a very satisfying relationship for both entities – a relationship built on local support, responsiveness and quality.

In both of these situations, the cost of doing business locally rather than globally was extremely competitive.

The loyalty and concern for ensuring that all aspects of business are handled appropriately exceeded expectations.

As you and your business head into 2017 with a new or revised direction, consider your definition of business not as usual and measure it against flexibility and for resilience, creativity and innovation with supply chain alternatives and potential opportunities for local engagement.

A happier new year awaits.

Sally Handlon is founder and president of Handlon Business Resources of Bethlehem. Since 2006, her company has been a leading sourcing connection for a variety of regional and global businesses seeking to forge strong supply chain relationships. She can be reached at 484-241-4124 or sally@hbrllc.com.

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