By: Team Avalanche
Avalanche was all-in at IEDC’s 2019 Annual Conference earlier this month. We enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. (Hey everyone!) With the whole team in attendance, we covered a lot of ground. Here’s a recap of what each of us took away from the event.
Amy: Internal communications has been top-of-mind for Avalanchers and our clients over the past year. At the conference, I asked numerous EDO execs about what they are doing to proactively address rising public scrutiny of economic development. All of them, without exception, said that they spend 80% or more of their time engaging with local stakeholders – elected officials, investors, media, educators, nonprofits, etc. Being more visible and opening lines of communication are important. Strengthening BR&E programs, producing strategy updates, developing metrics dashboards, and creating ambassador programs are a few examples of what’s working.
Chris: I was happy to participate in so many conversations around talent at an economic development conference! After 10+ years of preaching the need for talent alignment and 25 years of living inside a talent incubator and magnet (Austin), I can officially declare that WD & ED are “WED.” I was also pleased to hear about so many efforts around inclusive economic development and the recognition that “what’s great for workers is great for business” (and vice versa). (Way to go EDRP!)
Jennifer: I would love to compare the 2019 conference agenda and discussion topics to those from just 5-10 years ago. Based on this year’s sessions, it is clear that today’s economic development practitioners are being tasked with tackling increasingly complex issues. In addition to a greater need for internal communication and education on the shifting roles of economic development, I believe there is a pressing need for empowering EDO and Chambers’ volunteer (or appointed) leadership. My goal in 2020 is to deliver content related to the changing market and how to adapt organizationally to stay nimble and competitive.
Noelle: My favorite experience at this year’s conference was learning about what economic developers are doing to address inequities in their own communities. For example, I was impressed by the Indy Chamber and Prosper Portland’s inclusive incentive programs that focus on building equitable economies rather than just counting jobs and capital investment. I was also inspired by talent initiatives that prioritize middle skill jobs and develop pathways to engage populations left out of the labor market. It is refreshing to know that “inclusion” is not just a buzzword. Instead, economic developers are now taking lead roles in addressing complex and systemic equity and inclusion issues.
Marian: With large tech hubs and superstar coastal cities often dominating the news, I was excited to chat with other conference goers about how smaller cities can keep up. The “Small Cities That Thrive” session was especially timely. Economic developers from Surprise, Arizona, and New Haven, Connecticut, talked about how drastically different yet strikingly similar their towns are, as well as the steps they’ve taken to bring vitality to their communities. From film festivals to sports complexes, historic Yale University to the new Ottawa University, everyone agreed that quality of life investments pay off. It was affirming to hear from creative and passionate economic developers in small towns that are working hard to make their communities incredible places to live.
John: One of the most striking themes of this year’s conference was the question of what comes next for the U.S. economy and how this might impact our profession. In both formal sessions and informal conversations, the mood among many attendees was tempered enthusiasm. While many practitioners face challenges resulting from strong economic growth, there is also an acknowledgement that the good times can’t last forever. A decade ago, the global recession forced economic developers to become singularly focused on job growth. In more recent years, topics such as equity, inclusion, affordability, and labor availability have moved to the forefront. Whenever the next economic downturn does occur, I suspect one of the biggest challenges faced by many organizations will be balancing the need to maintain a holistic approach while also excelling at more foundational tasks such as courting new investment.
Tony: This year at the conference, I enjoyed celebrating our clients’ success. Congrats to Chris Roog, Director of Economic Development in West Palm Beach, Florida, for receiving his CEcD at the event. Chris has helped the City make significant investments in placemaking and innovation, and just announced a new research partnership related to smart streets. Congrats, also, to Amy Madison, Executive Director of Pflugerville Community Development Corporation, for being appointed to the IEDC Board of Directors! I enjoyed spending quality time with our new client, Jesse Canedo, from Bellevue, Washington – another community making proactive investments in livability, transportation, the arts, and much more. Bellevue, West Palm Beach, and Pflugerville are all examples of cities whose investments in livability are paying off in economic growth. At the end of the day, economic development is about making our communities better for the people that live in them. Those that prioritize people and quality of place will always be winners.