Last March, I wrote a blog predicting how Covid-19 would impact economic development. It’s been quite a ride since then, but my predictions were pretty darn close. At least enough to embolden me to make some predictions for 2021.

Here we go!

Top 10 Economic Development Predictions for 2021

  1. Awareness and appreciation for the ED profession grows.

    There is nothing better than unprecedented economic disruptions to bring the value of economic development to the forefront. This is similar to the aftermath of the Great Recession with one major exception: back then, we were in our element as industry was hardest hit first, and retail, foodservice, hospitality, etc. suffered the collateral damage. This time around, it was the retail, foodservice and hospitality that took the major brunt at first, and then it reached out to other industries. Many EDOs needed to pivot their own business models to help these Main Street businesses, and that effort has been greatly appreciated.

  2.  Target industry strategy becomes much more dynamic.

    Gone are the days when once you identified your target industries, you could check that off the list. Today, we are seeing seismic shifts within target industries in terms of which subsectors are “winners” or “losers.” And equally important, how you adapt your strategies for reaching the hot subsegments.

  3. Talent programs share the marquee more equally with business development programs.

    If you’ve been reading the Ady Advantage blog for a while, you know that we’ve been speaking of the growing importance of talent programs as another “leg of the stool” along with business development and placemaking. Talent programs account for 50% or more of many EDO’s budgets. So, it’s time EDOs become intentional about talent and their role in their strategic plans, programs, and outcomes.

  4. Talent strategy programs become more standardized and attention turns to program evaluation, improvement.

    From the fledgling days when courageous EDOs were taking shots in the dark to retain or attract talent, there is now a science and framework around talent, similar to what has evolved for business recruitment, expansion and retention. The Ady Advantage Talent Strategy Framework documents over 360 talent strategies from around the country and its seminal Midwest Talent Strategy research helps move that field forward. Now, we are at the forefront of evaluating talent programs and improving them for even more ROI.

  5. COVID trends will  “stick” – starting with Work from Home, Shop from Home, and Entertain from Home.

    These behavioral changes will relax a little bit, but by and large, it will be hard to close Pandora’s box. US office workers, in particular, have proven that people can be productive away from the office and that in-person meetings are not as necessary as we’d assumed. Many employers will make the trade-off of lower real estate costs in favor of an arrangement that many workers favor.

  6. Systemic challenges around economic equity and mobility will be an elevated priority going forward.

    We know that the communities and populations that have been hit hardest by COVID-19 are those who were the most economically disadvantaged. Economic inequality is an issue that pre-dated the COVID and will be with us long after the pandemic is over. Communities are increasingly prioritizing economic equity and mobility as core tenants of their economic development vision and strategic goals.

  7. Yes, there is still a “body” gap and “skills” gap.

    Employers state they have just as much trouble now recruiting employees as they did before COVID, if not more, especially in high-tech and manufacturing operations. Companies are stepping in to provide more training, led by Amazon who announced plans to up-skill 29 million people, regardless of whether they eventually come to work for Amazon.

  8. The syndrome of the “haves” and “have nots”rolls down to EDOs.

    Some have been buoyed by unexpected retail tax revenue as locals purchase remotely and pay local sales taxes. Others have been hit with declining revenues from overnight hotel stays, events, and restaurant businesses slowed to a crawl. Never has there been more pressure on some organizations, to provide more ROI and collaboration with other community organizations.

  9. Real estate shuffles the deck.

    Let us keep in mind that even during the economic disruption caused by the pandemic, we didn’t consume less food nor less goods. In fact, by and large we kept consumer spending up, but shifted from bars and restaurants to grocery stores and liquor stores, from brick-and-mortar stores to online stores, and from movie theaters to streaming entertainment. As a result, we don’t need less space to do what we do, we just need different space. And here is the great shuffling of uses for real estate. Retail becomes fulfillment, office becomes housing, data centers continue to grown, all retail now wants a drive-thru, and odd spaces in homes become instant “Zoom Rooms.”

  10. Supply chains are more complicated than they seem.

    Efforts to simply create multiple, shorter supply chains face an uphill battle in many sectors and geographies. This is still a valid strategy, just be prepared to invest in it for the long haul and to partner with your local manufacturing extension partnership and others who can help with the  technical aspects.

There’s never been a more exciting time to be part of the economic development industry. At Ady Advantage, we are honored and blessed to work on the frontlines with many of you to help fulfill our own mission, which is nothing short of making the world a better place.

We wish you and your families have a safe, peaceful and restful holiday on into the New Year.