Six Things Every Community Should Consider for 2017

by Amy Holloway and Team Avalanche

With leadership change at the national level, there is greater impetus to stay focused at the local and regional level. Economic and workforce development are in the spotlight. Strategic vision is needed. The holistic, inclusive perspective that Avalanche has been encouraging is now more critical than ever to helping our communities prosper.

Lately, our conversations at Avalanche center on what national changes means for our field. As with the many voices in any community, our team also comes to the table with different perspectives that together form a whole. This month, we thought it would be helpful to share our team members’ perspectives on the year ahead. So I asked our team members: In your experience working across the country, what advice do you have for communities to make 2017 positive and productive?

What emerged is good advice through different lenses that every community should consider for 2017.

Marian Kansas: As a recent UT graduate, I believe it’s important to provide a place for millennials in a community. This is more than providing options to live and have fun. It means engaging us in civic, political, and economic development issues to work towards the betterment of the entire community. My generation is educated and energized. If given the opportunity, we could have a transformative impact on the communities we serve.

Noelle Salerno: Proactive engagement and communication with citizens is more important than ever. Economic developers play a unique role. With the right communication tools, you can create a sense of identity and foster a unified, inclusive environment. Through proactive internal marketing, you can encourage citizens to be brand ambassadors while also facilitating productive dialogue to learn ways to further improve your community. This type of engagement brings together citizens around a common goal: a thriving community where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

Jennifer Vernon: We talk a lot about the importance of communities investing in themselves. The same goes for the economic development organizations representing them. To remain strong and vibrant, EDOs must be dedicated to developing their teams, including staff, board members, and volunteers. For the coming year, look beyond the traditional continuing education credits (or CEUs) and invest in your team’s growth in leadership, emotional intelligence, and communications skills.

John Rees: We live in an era characterized by two seemingly contradictory labor dynamics. On one hand, we have many unemployed and underemployed people hungry for good career opportunities. At the same time, there are many communities where local employers are desperate for workers. (The unemployment rate in the majority of metropolitan areas in the US remains 5% or less, which has traditionally been considered full employment.) In the years ahead, economic developers must facilitate discussions between business and educational institutions to align local talent production with employer demand. Successful efforts will ensure the competitiveness of local businesses while also providing all residents with promising career opportunities.

Tony DeLisi: It is important that we reflect on the values that we share as a community. We speak with hundreds of people across the country each month, and we find many common priorities. Most have pride in their communities and want to see them flourish; they seek opportunities to succeed professionally and personally; and they want to create the same opportunities for their children.  Building a unified vision based on the shared values of your community is the first step toward identifying a path forward. It provides a signpost. Before your community makes decisions about marketing, infrastructure, education, or policy, ask: Will this move us toward our vision and reinforce our values? This will ensure your decisions are not arbitrary. Will this move us forward together or apart?

Chris Engle: 2017 has the opportunity to be more intentional. After spending the last year on the receiving end of a political and marketing message blitz, 2017 can create the space for each of us to act more intentionally in our daily life:  Which of my actions contribute the most to my goals? My career? My community? And, a renewed focus on impact requires closer attention to data. Data, not conjecture, should be the foundation upon which we build plans. This is why we’ve developed new data tools and community indicators to serve as the baseline for conversations around job creation, talent alignment, and education.

We hope these perspectives are helpful to you and your organizations as you approach 2017. We are passionate about helping communities become more vital and prosperous. Please keep Avalanche in mind in the year to come if you need assistance with strategic planning, workforce alignment, research, and stakeholder engagement.