Essential Questions Every Economic Developer Should Ask in 2018

January 29, 2018

By Amy Holloway, President

As we begin the new year, we are thinking about questions that should be top-of-mind for communities interested in improving their competitiveness. These are inspired by conversations that are surfacing within our client communities across the country. Collaboration and new partnerships are central themes. We encourage you incorporate these questions into your own interactions. For example carve out a few minutes in your upcoming board meetings to discuss each question. Or, schedule staff meetings to consider the questions and develop one action item for each.  And don’t forget, we’re here to help.

How can we facilitate stronger, more inclusive collaboration within our community?
We predict that this will be the driving conversation in high-performing communities in 2018. With the convergence of economic, workforce, and community development at an all-time high, strengthening partnerships across your community will be critical to being more competitive. Embrace a collective impact approach that brings new partners to the table to tackle tough issues impacting economic development. While you may not lead implementation, you recognize impediments to economic growth and are in a position to facilitate partnerships and champion solutions.

Does our community have a disaster response plan, and if so, does it include an economic recovery component?
2017 was the costliest natural disaster year in US history. In fact, sadly in the last year, four of Avalanche’s client regions were impacted by natural disasters. To assist our clients, we interviewed more than one dozen economic developers who have experienced tragedies in the past 10 years. Each one said that having an economic recovery plan in place is of utmost importance, and that the EDO/Chamber is often in a lead role. Are you prepared to immediately jump into action to address local businesses’ needs following a natural disaster?

What can we do to embrace a more holistic approach to economic development?
At Avalanche, we embrace a holistic economic development perspective. A holistic approach goes beyond traditional measures of economic performance like sheer job creation to establish goals more reflective of a sustainable, resilient community.  Amazon’s HQ2 search, for example, reinforces this concept by emphasizing topics like quality of life, transit, and workforce development as being critical to competitiveness. (Click here to explore our thoughts on HQ2 in our Fall 2017 article for ACCE’s Chamber Executive Magazine.)  Businesses of all shapes and sizes are demanding the same. How can your community break down silos and update metrics to support a more holistic approach?

How are we maximizing the existing assets in our community?
When many think of economic development, they think of creating something new – new industrial sites, new marketing campaigns, new talent attraction, and new business recruitment. But, in many of our client communities, the key to economic competitiveness is repurposing and improving existing assets. In some communities, this could mean a shift from building a new business park to redeveloping existing real estate (which may require adjusting target industries, too). In others, this may involve moving from a pure talent attraction approach to digging in to re-engage disengaged workers. Taking care of existing businesses is a big part of the answer, too.

How do our businesses and residents describe our community to a stranger on a plane?
As strategists, we spend an indecent portion of our time on airplanes. While we encounter a lot of curiosities as frequent travelers (a description of which is best over cocktails), we are admittedly keen eavesdroppers of conversations when people tell their plane mates about where they live. Positive and negative, these impressions amplify. Internal marketing should be among an economic developer’s priorities. What are you doing to create a community of champions, armed with bragging points and awareness that what they say directly impacts economic development success?

How well are we transforming into a more global, technologically dynamic community?
This is among our “must asks” for the economic development profession.  Change can be exhilarating and create vast advantages for communities that anticipate it.  Are you setting aside time in your busy schedule to stay current? Are your board and staff members? Does your economic development strategy include an FDI component? Maximize business development events, like trade shows, as much as sales opportunities by participating in sessions on industry dynamics. With an open eye, consider how your community might be perceived by an international business and its employees. Host listening sessions for community leaders in which local industry leaders to share their insights on trends impacting their businesses. Stay alert and energized about transformation.