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Thread: How can residents help attract development if resident's ED Director isn't?

  1. #1
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    How can residents help attract development if resident's ED Director isn't?

    Hello Forum,

    I'm a frequent lurker of Cyburbia and a lover of ED. I post today because I am absolutely frustrated with the performance of my county's ED director and therefore would like to know how I as a resident can best help attract development in my community. I currently don't work in ED, but, over the past 4 years I have worked on ED projects on both the city and county level. Therefore, I am well aware of what's going on economic development wise. To say the least, the guy is pretty jaded, focused on dead-end projects that haven't yielded results in years and due to an apathetic BOC, he's allowed to stay for whatever reason. However, as a result the community has been written off as the "worst" in the metro area.

    Just a little bit of background, the county is located in a core of 5 suburban counties surrounding a very large city. It sits no more than 20 minutes from the city's downtown, has direct access to several interstates, is home to the primary airport that serves the region, historical sites/ locations of national significance, a growing research university, a couple areas with very nice housing stock, a fantastic parks and recs system, and a few historic downtown areas ripe for development. What it has against it, however, is a poor school system, an apathetic voter base (thus apathetic leadership), ageing housing stock with a high rate of foreclosures, lower middle to working class population, lack of transit, crime, and worst of all.. a bad name... Yes! I Know there are a ton of problems that need to be addressed. It's a difficult sell! However, as I ride around all I see is opportunities. And I know they can be found and capitalized on because during the same time that I was working on a project in the ED department, the deputy at the time was a very bright guy who already had a couple projects lined up despite the county's disadvantages. However, for whatever reason the president didn't recognize them as "viable" and they fell through.

    How about, a month or two later, another county recognized the deputy's talent and offered him a position in their department, allowed him to implement the same ideas he was planning for my county and now , because of his leadership, that county is one of the most affluent in the nation. It can be done! I'm well aware of the county's advantages and disadvantages, but I personally, am not in a position where I can implement and or champion some ideas that I have to spur ED! I'm fed up and I want to do something, but I don't know where to start! Can I propose something? Or Create my own plan? etc.. What?! Any input would be great!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    In many municipalities there might be several entities working on Economic Development. Sometimes it is coordinated, sometimes not. In addition to the official ED department, I have seen Chambers of Commerce, Regional Planning Authorities, organizations/businesses responsible for outsourcing tech research to private industry, and even state Tourism and Convention/Visitors bureaus get involved in this arena (presumably because they have already developed good info to promote a locale that is attractive to potential companies and visitors alike). I have also seen independent non-profits that are geared toward promoting specific aspects of ED (say the tech industry) as well as Main Street and related programs/non-profits organized to promote and attract businesses to a specific area within a municipality.

    There is also the tact of “promoting from within” so to speak – support and financial services that help businesses starting out or growing/expanding who already are based in your area. For example, in my fair city we have a small business incubator as well as a regional micro-lending and technical assistance group (two separate enetities)

    As you can see from the list, most of these are non-profits, government agencies or, more rarely, for profit entities. But not so much individuals. So, you might consider forming a non-profit or connecting with another entity that is or could promote the economic benefits of setting up business in your area.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  3. #3
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    Non profits are a good way to go. I've seen a lot of groups that connect the guy with an idea to financing, business plans, and other help to get his business started. Sometimes just holding a class at the local library on how to start a business is a big help to the community. A lot of ideas fail because people don't know how to get their idea off the ground. The one I helped with had people discuss writing a plan, how to get financing, getting permits, etc.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    I have struggled with your post. It is easy to critize the ED director from the cheap seats. No project is the same. I have done economic development for a decade and rarely do two deals go the same way. Just because you have worked on a few projects does not mean you understand the dynamics for every project. From some of the things you posted you seem very energetic but it also seems like you don't fully grasp how economic development works or what does into making projects happen. A community does not go from middle of the road to one of the most affluent in the nation in a month, year or even a decade unless you oil or another nautral resources in involved. The deputy you spoke so highly about moved to a county who has compete buy-in throughout the organization that economic development is important.

    You can put the best ED person in the world to work in a city and if their is no leadership at the city manager and council level to make it a priority then little will happen. Communities that do ED well have departments that are focused on making projects happen and every deal I have worked on has involved at least three to four different departments at a minimum. I am not saying your communities ED director is good or bad but how you describe the community it is not just his fault projects are not happening. Furthermore, attraction is only 15% or so of what economic development is but it gets the most attention.

    If you want to help then reach out to the director and offer your services. Ask questions on approach, tactics and strategy. Learn to see what he is doing and what he is challenged with. From that figure out how you can plug in. Is your chamber engaged in economic development? IS their an economic development board or something similiar you could join.

    You could reach out to some of the electeds. Since job creation is always a topic I would imagine most would want to listen. Keep an open mind. One thing I hate about economic development is everyone thinks they know how to do my job. If I had a dollar for everytime I heard you should be pulling companies out of California I would be a rich man. It is something we have been doing in my region since the 1980's; its 40% of our pipeline but we still hear it all the time. I say this this because for all you know some of your ideas might already be in effect. Also, keep in mind that most ED people are secretive by nature. Its part of the business. Most projects require an NDA and even those that don't we still do not talk about them...its like Fight Club.


    Once of the worst things you can do is try to got it alone or form a shadow group to make economic development happen. It scares prospects and brokers away. Figure out how to work within the system. Best of luck!
    "You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it,..." -Bane

  5. #5
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Brocktoon provides some great advice, especially his suggestion to sit down with your ED director and find out if he could use some of your volunteer services and allow you to better understand the challenges he is facing. In my experience, about 20 main variables go into a business location decision. Local government & ED Directors can only influence about 3-4 of them.

    You might think it is your ED Director that is the problem, but I suspect the real issue is lack of leadership with executive leadership & elected officials resulting in poor collaboration. I've seen many a good ED Director essentially hog-tied by bad leadership from above.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I had a wonderful conversation with a shop owner in Kansas as I drove home from a trip this past weekend. We talked economic development. The county she is in only has six cities with any businesses, and most are very small. Her business is located in a city of 250 people. The county seat is the largest city with 850 people. There are no large businesses, but at least two of the small towns have very viable downtown businesses selling art, antiques, and other specialty retail, as well as restaurants and lodging. Her frustration was that the economic developer did nothing for the many small businesses who could use the attention, but instead continued to pursue an industrial attraction strategy that had never paid off.

    Perhaps you are in a similar situation. Much of the economic development profession is trapped by a way of thinking that goes back to its origins in the 1950's, when industrial recruitment and a focus on large establishments made sense. For many communities today this makes no sense, but many people do not know what else to do and most state and federal programs are still build around this model.

    When was the last time your community had an economic development plan prepared, or even (maybe more importantly) had a comprehensive assessment of the economy and the economic development program?
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Importantplans View post
    Hello Forum,

    I'm a frequent lurker of Cyburbia and a lover of ED. I post today because I am absolutely frustrated with the performance of my county's ED director and therefore would like to know how I as a resident can best help attract development in my community. I currently don't work in ED, but, over the past 4 years I have worked on ED projects on both the city and county level. Therefore, I am well aware of what's going on economic development wise. To say the least, the guy is pretty jaded, focused on dead-end projects that haven't yielded results in years and due to an apathetic BOC, he's allowed to stay for whatever reason. However, as a result the community has been written off as the "worst" in the metro area.

    Just a little bit of background, the county is located in a core of 5 suburban counties surrounding a very large city. It sits no more than 20 minutes from the city's downtown, has direct access to several interstates, is home to the primary airport that serves the region, historical sites/ locations of national significance, a growing research university, a couple areas with very nice housing stock, a fantastic parks and recs system, and a few historic downtown areas ripe for development. What it has against it, however, is a poor school system, an apathetic voter base (thus apathetic leadership), ageing housing stock with a high rate of foreclosures, lower middle to working class population, lack of transit, crime, and worst of all.. a bad name... Yes! I Know there are a ton of problems that need to be addressed. It's a difficult sell! However, as I ride around all I see is opportunities. And I know they can be found and capitalized on because during the same time that I was working on a project in the ED department, the deputy at the time was a very bright guy who already had a couple projects lined up despite the county's disadvantages. However, for whatever reason the president didn't recognize them as "viable" and they fell through.

    How about, a month or two later, another county recognized the deputy's talent and offered him a position in their department, allowed him to implement the same ideas he was planning for my county and now , because of his leadership, that county is one of the most affluent in the nation. It can be done! I'm well aware of the county's advantages and disadvantages, but I personally, am not in a position where I can implement and or champion some ideas that I have to spur ED! I'm fed up and I want to do something, but I don't know where to start! Can I propose something? Or Create my own plan? etc.. What?! Any input would be great!
    Hey...wait a second. Do we live in the same city? lol. Actually no - just sister cities. You at least actually HAVE an ED. Ours quit a year or so ago and we still haven't gotten a new one.

    I got appointed to my Development Authority. It's actually giving me an opportunity to affect change, somewhat, by putting the search for a developer within my purview, who can then be tasked with locating the businesses for their project.

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