This is the fourth article in a series about the role of Local EDOs, Regional EDOs, State EDOs, and Utility ED in what I call the Economic Development Ecosystem. My experience is that the strongest areas of the country are those where all four components are strong and aligned. From a site selector standpoint, it’s pretty apparent when the whole system is humming as one coordinated unit, and when it’s not. The focus of this column is on the role of State EDOs.
First, the perceived “business climate” of a state is usually a consideration before any region or community within that state is considered. During the very initial stages of a site selection project, there is always a discussion about which states or parts of the country will be included or excluded from consideration. What is the site selector’s experience in working in that state on previous projects? What has the company heard about doing business in that state? This is a chance to say either “let’s throw that state in” or “let’s eliminate that state.” There are, of course, other factors that come into play, such as access to markets, access to talent, access to required infrastructure, and/or costs that can override the initial instinct, but business climate does matter.
You might be asking, what does “business climate” mean exactly? It means ease of doing business, costs of doing business, the fiscal position of the state, incentives, and often, policy positions on taxes, right-to-work, and increasingly, social issues. When states make pro-business changes to these factors, site selectors listen. Our research shows that this is one of the key pieces of information that site selectors are interested in learning about and that on average, they will be at least 18 months ahead of the typical corporate CEO in keeping abreast of positive and negative changes to a state’s business climate. That is why relationships with site selectors and other decision influencers such as mainstream business media is an important role for state EDOs.
So, what are the key elements that a state economic development organization must deliver on? First and foremost, being responsive and providing us with the requested information or contacts. When we ask states to shepherd the RFI process, we appreciate it when the state offers quality control and added value on the submissions. It sends a powerful, positive message to site selectors when a state only submits those responses that are completed, on time, and appropriate for the RFI. The icing on the cake is when the state offers additional value, such as regional profile information and a map of all the areas that are submitting so that we can see how the various regions within a state compare.
A second key area where states can differentiate themselves is by investing in the capacity of economic developers in the state. This means working to make your economic development professionals as knowledgeable and capable as possible. Often, this is conducted in coordination with state economic development associations and involves ongoing education and training, sharing best practices, and mentoring. I’ve seen great programs in many states, including many that are heavily rural.
A third area is in providing data and tools. The best economic developers have a penchant for data and research, as well as tools. Some states are using BRE data as a competitive advantage because their statewide ecosystem works together to leverage the data that is collected at the local and regional levels. Certified sites programs and sites & buildings databases are other tools and programs that make sense to provide at the state level. With regions and communities populating and using the same tools, the data ouput that is provided to site selectors will be more consistent and comprehensive.
States are still the place where many site selection projects start, and this is because there is an opportunity for states to provide value in terms of knowledge, relationships, and programs.
To learn more about how our suite of services can help your ED ecosystem really hum, visit our website at www.adyadvantage.com or give us a call at 608.663.9218. I or a member of my team would be happy to speak with you.