Over the course of the past year, more than one economic developer has pulled me aside to make a confession:  they’re no longer actively recruiting businesses.  Instead, they are placing their bets on business retention and expansion (BRE). The main reason is that they simply don’t have the workforce to satisfy their existing employers, let alone any new ones.  These are leading ED professionals who as recently as two years ago were competing for and winning projects with millions in capital investment and often hundreds of jobs.

This got me thinking about what we can learn about how best to do this.

How Best to Change Focus

  • The first step is to acknowledge that the world is changing and doing more of the same isn’t going to cut it anymore; in fact, doing more of the same is likely to be detrimental to your success. In other words, be intentional about strategy shifts or you risk losing the support of your investors and risk confusing potential customers.
  • We frequently advise ED professionals to use an evidence-based approach to sharing with their Boards how and why their economy has changed. This allows for an open, fact-based inquiry which then lends itself to a strategic discussion of how to respond as an organization.
  • We also suggest that if your economic development strategic plan is still organized around the old three legs of the stool – BRE, business recruitment, and business start-up – you really need to take a fresh look and develop a new economic development strategic plan.
  • There is a very good likelihood that your new plan will be more inclusive of various topics such as quality of place, talent retention and development, and barriers to talent such as housing, childcare and transportation. Necessarily, the “tent” for economic development needs to be bigger as it’s nearly impossible to do a good job at all these additional moving pieces without at least a doubling of your budget and staff.  In lieu of that, many ED professionals are leveraging and aligning the efforts of other stakeholders to create better alignment and higher impact of the resources in the community.
  • Some community organizations are using the opportunity to look at more formally aligning themselves with one another, such as through mergers of multiple organizations. Those of us who have been around for a while have seen the pendulum swing both ways on this, and it’s once again swinging back toward more unification.

The best economic development professionals are constantly taking in new information and being open to revising their focus to better position their organizations to support the economic growth and diversity of their communities.  Might this be a strategy for your group to consider?  We’d be happy to discuss with you whether it makes sense; give us a call at 608-663-9218 or drop us an email for a consultation.