As we say goodbye to 2017, the Avalanche team is reflecting on what we’ve learned throughout the year. In the ever-changing landscape of the US economy, we’re constantly staying current on trends. Here, our team members share insight on what we learned in 2017 that will be vitally important in the new year. Our thoughts focus on the ever increasing convergence of economic, community, and workforce development – a philosophy we wholeheartedly embrace at Avalanche.

John Rees – With 4% unemployment nationally, ensuring that employers have a sufficient pool of workers has become one of the most important determinants of economic growth. For many communities, talent attraction has become a top priority. That said, despite our country’s myth of geographic mobility (“Go West, young man”), Americans are increasingly rooted in place. In 2017, the percentage of Americans who moved during the previous year hit its lowest level since World War II. In addition, many urban areas are approaching “Peak Millennial.” The era of abundant young professionals may be closing. As a result, the primary opportunity for many growing communities will be to ensure the availability of homegrown talent. The lines between economic development and workforce development will increasingly blur.

Noelle Salerno – Diversity and inclusion has been top of mind for us in 2017 as our clients work to address gaps in income, educational attainment, and overall economic prosperity. To better understand your community’s unique dynamics, dig into metrics related to poverty, income, educational attainment, and leadership across age, gender, and ethnicity. Examine policies and programs that get to the root cause of systemic inequity, such as those related to land use, transportation, and education. Finally, ensure there is diverse representation in your community conversations. Engage local civic organizations that may already have established connections with under-represented groups in your community and actively recruit diverse board and staff members. Addressing these challenges do not come with easy answers or quick fixes, but it is a critical for communities that want to become thriving, prosperous locations for all citizens.

Tony DeLisi – We have entered into the tightest labor market in recent history. There is both a significant skills gap and not enough people in the labor force to fill positions. Continuing efforts to train, retain, and attract skilled residents remains a critical activity in all communities, but the pipeline for training is years long, and Americans are not moving as frequently as they have in the past. We also continue to see declines in labor force participation. These disengaged residents actually present the largest and nearest pool of potential new workers. In response, we see our clients working hard to help these individuals re-connect with the economy through social support and upskilling. While this is often the most difficult approach to filling the talent pipeline – requiring new resoruces and partnerships to do so – it can also be the most rewarding. Afterall, how truly successful is economic development if whole communities of residents are being left behind?

Jennifer Vernon – Prior to joining the Avalanche team, I spent a decade with a regional economic development organization whose sole focus was global marketing for new business recruitment. During a majority of that time, economic developers were racing to develop shovel-ready sites and spec buildings. Today, talent has become the lead focus. Regardless of the driver, a regional approach is the best approach. It may take more time than you think to get everyone to the table. Once you do, spending time on the front end to define why you are working together, what you hope to accomplish, and how you plan to share ideas, information, and resources will ensure your regional collaboration gets started on the right path.

Marian Kansas – As the fight for regional talent and businesses becomes even more competitive (like the frenzy to win Amazon HQ2), it is important for communities to not only be transparent in their economic development practices, but also actively advertise their community’s strengths, initiatives, and assets to the world. With a growing abundance of social media and digital marketing options available, EDOs have more resources than ever to connect with their target audiences. In 2018, I expect to see EDOs employing even more creative communications and content to stand out from their competition. This also applies within a community. Keeping your stakeholders informed and engaged by utilizing innovative marketing platforms will create a community of cheerleaders that help amplify your message to the outside world.