Top Questions Economic Developers Are Asking Today

By Noelle Salerno, Senior Consultant

This month’s IEDC Annual Conference was a great opportunity to connect with economic developers and get a pulse on the trends impacting the field today. Attendees were buzzing about topics that are disrupting their communities and shaping how they plan for the future.

Based on our conversations during the event, we compiled questions that are top of mind for economic developers today:

How do we stay relevant as a profession?

Economic developers discussed how their roles have evolved and what that means for the profession as a whole. Here at Avalanche, we believe that economic development must be holistic, inclusive of all areas that impact your community’s ability to be a prosperous place for residents and businesses. This means expanding the lens outside of just job creation and capital investment. Staying on top of trends and disruptors, such as how technological changes are impacting local industries and how demographic changes are impacting the talent pipeline, can position economic developers as thought leaders within their communities, allowing them to drive the conversation on economic prosperity. Columbus 2020 and the Columbus Partnership are prime examples of economic and community development-focused organizations that serve as thought leaders and conveners within their region.

How do we stay focused when implementing our ambitious programs and initiatives?

Taking a holistic view of economic development may raise concerns that a practitioner must be a jack of all trades. As Amy Holloway shared during her ED Talks session at the conference, partnerships are essential to a successful holistic approach. Economic developers can serve as conveners, bringing together disparate groups to break down silos and work toward a common goal. For example, we recently worked with the Charlotte region to develop a joint economic development strategy between the Charlotte Chamber and Charlotte Regional Partnership, breaking down siloes and paving the way for regional collaboration related to talent, infrastructure, and innovation. Since then, the region has begun forming a merged regional organization.

How can we improve inclusivity in our communities?

Inclusion was the theme of this year’s IEDC conference and was top of mind for attendees. Economic developers shared how they are working to improve economic mobility and address growing disparities in their communities through creative strategies and broader stakeholder engagement. Attendees emphasized the importance of engaging traditionally underrepresented groups and tracking metrics that shed light on inequities to help determine the best path forward for addressing difficult systemic challenges. For example, last year we worked with the Atlanta Regional Commission to develop the region’s inclusion-focused CATLYST Strategy. Using a collective impact approach, diverse teams are taking on initiatives that address interrelated topics like housing, transportation, talent, and economic growth to move the region toward its vision of being a place that works for everyone by empowering economic mobility.

How can we better tell our story?

Another common theme we heard from economic developers was how to better tell their story, both internally and externally. This includes using metrics to highlight both success stories and challenges that must be addressed, collecting testimonials from direct beneficiaries of economic development initiatives to personify the organization’s impact, and educating key stakeholders about the role of economic development, including elected officials. These actions help economic developers tell an authentic story that resonates with stakeholders and ensures everyone is working from the same information platform. For example, the Roanoke Regional Partnership changed their community narrative to embrace, showcase, and activate their regional outdoor assets to support economic development. They successfully led internal marketing campaigns and advocacy efforts for outdoor infrastructure investments in addition to outdoor-focused external marketing campaigns to attract businesses and talent.

Whether it’s keeping a pulse on trends, implementing ambitious strategies, improving inclusivity, or telling their story, economic developers are thinking about how they can continue to grow as leaders and best serve their communities in this ever-changing competitive landscape. After an inspiring week in Atlanta discussing these topics and more with leaders in our field, we are optimistic about the positive impact economic developers will make on their communities in the future. Contact us if we can help your community embrace a more holistic, partnership-driven approach.