The world of economic development is not going through the usual incremental changes it’s always gone through; it’s going through massive step-changes. The sooner that EDOs and their Boards realize this, the sooner they can take stock of their own situation and make decisions on how to move forward so that they can shape their future rather than just respond to what the future throws at them.
The major change is that economic development is shifting form the traditional business development model focused on jobs and investment to a model that incorporates business development as well as talent development and place management, focusing on the additional goals of economic mobility and equity.
What proactive EDOs are doing
Many EDOs saw this change coming and responded by engaging a wider and deeper group of stakeholders, by shifting resources to talent initiatives, by spending more time aligning resources across partners with shared goals and through related activities.
At Ady Advantage, we’re seeing our clients seek input from a wider range of stakeholder partners (chamber, CVBs, Main Street programs, and the like) in the strategic planning process, take a stronger focus on talent (not just workforce), and developing brands that encompass the entire community’s perspective, including that of employers.
What the Rest Are Doing (or not Doing)
But a lot of EDOs and their boards have been slow or disjointed in their response – probably just hoping all this change will just go away and things will get back to “normal” soon. Unfortunately, that will not be the case. As a result, EDOs and their boards have one of two choices:
- Address the new ED world head on; or,
- Go backwards.
Staying the same is not an option. Doing what you’ve always done means going backwards.
A Litmus Test for Your EDO
How well is your board and staff aligned relative to this new Economic Development environment?
In countless communities, I’ve seen symptoms of misalignment:
- For example, some board members micromanage seasoned ED pros, resulting in conflicting priorities on the most tactical of levels.
- Other times, board members themselves have fundamental differences on key policies, such as whether to submit a response to the Amazon RFI, whether to get involved in housing developments, whether to continue to provide tax abatement’s for certain projects, and so on.
- In other communities, I see boards highly reluctant to do things differently than they always have. Time and again, and counter-intuitively, I find that the people most likely to resist change are the board members who have been in the community for the longest time; it’s usually the newcomers who see more clearly and urgently the potential of the community and the need for adaptation and evolution.
At the root of these symptoms is a lack of shared vision and goals that reflects the new reality. The best Economic Development strategic planning processes focus on showing data that presents factual information about your current situation ( at Ady Advantage, we call this “evidence-based economic development”) and engaging a broad and deep group of stakeholders to build consensus around the fundamental strategic questions:
- What do we as a community want to be from an economic development perspective?
- How will we get there?
For more on the meta changes happening in the world of economic development, I hope you’ll find these articles helpful:
If you’re reexamining your strategic plan soon – or you need to create your first – we’d welcome the opportunity to discuss how your strategic plan can help your organization navigate the new economic development landscape. Call us today.