In our work with hundreds of EDOs across North America, we have found more than a couple of truisms. One that I’d like to expand on here is that every part of the economic development ecosystem has a role, and every ecosystem is most effective when each member is strong. I’m defining the members of the ecosystem as local EDOs, regional EDOs, and state EDOs, along with utility ED partners. This column focuses on local EDOs, and I’ll address each of the others in future, sequential blogs.
Local EDOs are, let’s face it, where it all happens. I often assure local economic developers that even though the regions, states, and utilities are all involved in economic development, it’s the local economic developers who are guaranteed a seat at the deal table at the end of the day. That is because all economic development is local – it all comes down to a specific site or building, and that always involves a local economic development representative.
One of the fears that local economic developers often have is losing their unique identity when being grouped in as part of a region. My advice would be that individuality and differentiation are critically important, and are even more so when you are part of a strong region. Companies, people, and site selectors are not looking for homogeneity within a region; we’re looking for unique, individualized places working together.
What is it that local EDOs must deliver on? First, they need to provide the product. Readiness and preparedness are indicators of a successful local EDO. Are your sites and buildings ready to go? Are your development processes business-friendly? Do your programs and incentives support your economic development growth goals?
Second, local EDOs must deliver on local knowledge. Can you provide insights on the local labor force, training programs, incentives, local employers, etc.? No matter how much data you can find online, there is always a consideration for the local expert. Based on your local knowledge, you should be able to craft a unique positioning for your community and have clarity of the types of workers and companies that would place the greatest value on your particular mix of economic assets.
The third main deliverable at the local level is alignment. It’s been several years ago since my good friend Bob Hess from Newmark Knight Frank stated, “Alignment is a powerful concept in economic development.” Indeed, it is. Alignment means your local stakeholders are educated about economic development and are on board. Alignment mitigates the uncertainty and risk that can otherwise kill a project, thus making it a very powerful intangible for communities.
Ultimately, the goal is for each local community to deliver on these three factors – product, local knowledge, and alignment. If you’re operating on all of these bases, your community is going to be well equipped to get more than its share of the types of projects that are the best fit for your community.