Spotlight on Economic Development

Spotlight on Economic Development

The search for Amazon’s second HQ in the United States has thrust economic development into the national spotlight. In fact, one of my favorite sessions at IEDC‘s 2018 Leadership Summit was the Tuesday morning special plenary session, “Chasing the Big Deal,” which focused heavily on the impact of Amazon’s new HQ search. Throughout the country, people are realizing that there is an entire industry dedicated to improving their local economies. While it’s wonderful to see this critical profession getting the recognition it deserves, I don’t think the picture created by the current Amazon HQ search is an accurate depiction of economic development priorities today.

I’ve been part of the economic development community for over two decades as a fundraising consultant, so it was fascinating to hear the varied opinions regarding the impact of the Amazon HQ2 search on the industry. While everyone seemed to agree that the competition to secure Amazon’s new HQ has been great for raising awareness of the important role economic development organization’s play in their communities, it has also created a false impression that most of their time and energy is focused on landing the next “grand slam” game-changer in terms of jobs and capital investment.

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of economic developers are focused on “base hits” – singles and doubles, to continue the analogy. And more times than not, these economic development wins don’t come from new business recruitment, but rather from existing business retention and expansion projects. In fact, since the Great Recession, we’ve seen a significant shift from new business recruitment to business retention and expansion, and a major component of our clients’ strategic plans is now workforce recruitment, development, and retention. Why the increasing sense of urgency around workforce? There are nearly 6 million job openings across the country, and with 77 million Baby Boomers continuing to retire, this problem will worsen before it gets better. Our country will soon face a labor shortage like never in its history.

As a result, our most progressive and innovative clients are developing “outside the box” strategies to address the issue, from classroom field trips involving students, parents, guidance counselors, and teachers to promise initiatives to student/teacher internships to “recruit ’em back” strategies and more. And based on what we’re seeing in our client communities across the country, these strategies are paying off. They’re enjoying numerous singles and doubles, which many baseball fans will tell you is the long-term strategy for winning the game.