Archive for January, 2010


January 9, 2010


With greater emphasis on job creation by state and local officials, economic developers are facing increased pressure for success measured in the number of new jobs created.  This comes at a time when state, local and private funding for economic development programs is more difficult to secure.  These trends plus, renewed national policy direction toward “regional’ approaches toward economic development, require new organizational thinking – a framework of locally sponsored regional economic development agencies.

Historical Perspective

When it comes to new business development, counties and local governments across the country traditionally have worked independently from each other — each promoting its own jurisdictional areas to attract new business and industry.

In many instances, these efforts were undertaken at the expense of the other.   Suburban areas, for example, often sought to gain a competitive edge by focusing on negative aspects of inner city life — high wage or property taxes, declining transportation systems, crime and the lack of affordable housing.    Too often it was the major center city areas that suffered — as people and businesses fled to the suburbs — away from the problems of the decaying center cities.

But times have changed.  Rather than treating cities and suburbs as separate entities, economic development practitioners today strive to find ways for various levels of government, governmental agencies, economic development organizations, and business and community groups to work together.  Instead of fighting each other, the idea is to use a coördinated “regional” approach to maximize development opportunities for the region as a whole.

Why Regionalism? 

There are several important reasons why the trend toward regionalism is accelerating.  First, the federal government — a long time source of funds for economic development activities — has recently renewed its interest in regional economic development.  Before the idea of regionalism became an accepted development strategy, counties, cities and other local economic development groups were largely uncoordinated.  They also duplicated efforts or overlapped each other in terms of goals and objectives. During the 1980 & 90’s, there was such a proliferation of local and specialized agencies throughout the country that many funding sources for economic development were completely dissipated.  No longer able to turn to the state or federal government to subsidize economic development agency operations, many of the “stand-alone” economic development groups realized that “regionalism” maybe the only means to fund economic development programs.

Working Together

Regional efforts offer several distinct advantages.  One of the most important is the development of a uniform message about the region.   To maximize their chances at attracting new businesses and industries from the outside, suburban communities now realize they too, must build and enhance the overall positive image of the regional area as a place for business growth and expansion.

That attitude can be especially apparent in large-scale projects such as industrial/business park developments, airport expansions, a major highway development, and waterfront developments — most of which involve a high level of public/private interaction.  Such projects can provide significant benefits not only to the specific local government but to outlying areas.

A regional approach can also mean significant savings from a marketing standpoint — thanks in large part to the economies of scale that become apparent through the coordination of several groups’ combined resources.  Their combined resources give these development groups the opportunity to realize “more bang for the buck” in their advertising, marketing and public relations activities, as they actively promote the advantages of their region.

Setting the Pace

Regionalism is an approach to economic development is more than a theory.  It’s an idea that is taking off in many sections of the country.  It is based on the understanding that regions defined by trade relationships among existing businesses provide an economic competitive advantage to businesses thus allowing them to grow and prosper faster and to a greater degree that if they where located in another local.  It also gives rise to the notion that the competitive advantage is supported by certain unique employee skill sets within the workforce supporting the success of these businesses. 

Leading economic development organizations use these competitive advantages to both encourage existing businesses growth and expansion and to lure new business location.

Hang Together

More and more rural and urban regions across the nation are finding increased value in cooperation, rather than competition.  The logic behind this trend is fairly straight forward.  As communities plan for the future, they will need to maximize their increasingly limited resources.  Many areas already face major problems that simply have become too big for one community or area to handle alone — problems such as better municipal services, road improvements and maintenance, mass transit, job training, education and economic growth.  If they can somehow enhance those resources by attracting new businesses and industries, the burden will funded, in part, by increased population and tax revenue and not left solely to existing tax payers.

One economic development official put is more simply:  “A bigger pie means more pieces for everyone.”  Only by working together using a regional effort will counties, cities and suburban communities be able to produce effective solutions to such problems.

In fact, policymakers who refuse to consider a regional outlook may take a lesson from our Founding Fathers.  It was Benjamin Franklin, after all, who stresses the need for cooperation among his fellow signers of the Declaration of Independence with the observation: “Surely, gentlemen, if we don’t all hang together, we will hang separately”.