Top Takeaways From The 2014 Southern Economic Development Council Annual Conference

We had a great time in Memphis, TN at the Southern Economic Development Council Annual Conference and hope you did as well! There were plenty of great sessions to attend, covering topics ranging from railroads and ports, to positioning communities for growth, to leadership, to trends in site selection. These sessions focused specifically on economic development in the southern states, but there are plenty of great insights that economic developers throughout the country can learn from as well.

Take a look at these session summaries, where we’ve pulled together the thoughts and advice shared by experts in their fields, as well as the insights that resonated most with your peers in attendance. Additionally, we’ve added our own thoughts on how these trends are currently impacting economic development fundraising initiatives throughout the country, and how they will continue to impact your fundraising efforts in the years to come.

In the opening session at SEDC’s Annual Conference, The Honorable Haley Barbour, Former Governor of Mississippi, spoke on state competitiveness and positioning your community to do business. The topic of preparedness, specifically in workforce development, site preparation, and multi-modal infrastructure, resonated well with the audience, which was no surprise to us. More and more often we are seeing our clients incorporating these elements in to their multi-year strategic plans, and investors are responding positively. Knowing that their investment will be going to improving long-term regional needs that will directly benefit their own company growth is especially important to local businesses when considering funding support.

Another trend in economic development that we see having a direct impact on fundraising efforts is “Quality of Place,” which was well presented in the session “Opportunities for Job & Investment Growth.” Understanding the needs of the current and future employees that local businesses want to attract is just as important to economic growth as understanding the needs of your local businesses. Data presented in this session demonstrate that “people choose community based on social activities, aesthetics, and openness.” It’s important to educate potential investors on the impact that programs focusing on these areas of community improvement have on the overall economic health and viability of your community so they understand the need for funding.

While there has been a definite shift in focus towards business retention and expansion, new business attraction efforts are far from dead. While this “Trends in Site Location” panel offered a plethora of valuable insights, the one that truly resonated with us from a funding perspective was “There is no incentives package that will make up for a bad site.” Ensuring that you have the funding necessary to complete and market your region and specific sites is imperative to future success.

There were many other great sessions covering topics including ports, railroads, the global supply chain, and more. You can view the rest of our session recaps by visiting our Storify page.