Creating Your Community’s Strategic Growth Plan

How much risk is in your community’s economic development plan?

It’s that time of year when attention turns to creating a strategic plan for your community. The exercise is always challenging because forecasting job growth in an unsteady economy is like scrying with a crystal ball.  Many times it takes a leap of faith. And, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that as long as you know how much risk you’ve build into the economic growth commitments you make and are prepared to manage the risk appropriately.

The Ansoff Matrix is a model commonly used by marketers in the private sector to assess the risk associated with their marketing plans. I have modified the tool for use in economic development.

The expansion strategy is the least risky because it leverages the companies already doing business in your community. If you have strategies that will help make these companies more profitable, then job growth is likely to follow. But, expansion has limits. You need to be certain there are no barriers to growth, and local skilled labor availability is always a consideration.The Matrix basically categorizes the strategic options you have for creating job growth in your community. Your objective should be to have a plan with a well-balanced risk profile. If your growth plan skews to the high end of the risk spectrum, you should set the right expectation by sharing that assessment with your Board of Directors (as well as key community stakeholders) and then review your contingency plans.

Company development options include pursuing attraction of additional operating divisions or headquarters. This may be an effective strategy if a company can leverage the core competencies of your community across product or service lines. Job growth through company consolidation is typically more risky than job growth through local sustainable business success.

Company attraction is a strategy many communities pursue. This approach seeks to further develop the strength of the industry clusters in your community. Typically, it means pursuing additional supply chain or non-competing companies to create increased critical mass within your largest industry verticals.

Cluster diversification is the most risky of the four growth strategies since it requires you to pursue companies outside the industries that have been successful in your community. It requires you to think out-of-the-box about your community’s infrastructure and assets. Often it requires an infusion of capital to create new capabilities to underpin a new value proposition for your community. In the private sector, this quadrant of the Matrix has been referred to as the “suicide cell”. However, depending on circumstances, it may also be the most prudent choice; particularly if sustainable prosperity is not achievable for your community with existing clusters (e.g. major industry cluster is dying).

How Do You Apply The Matrix?

Start by assessing your current plan risk.

  • Define the sources of your job growth forecast (where you are planning the jobs will come from).
  • Assign each source to a cell on the Matrix.
  • Understand the degree of risk (high-medium-low) associated with successfully delivering your forecast.
  • Create strategies and specific action plans to mitigate the risk (i.e. plans capable of over delivering the forecast).
  • If you can’t mitigate the risk, consider revising your forecast downward so you set appropriate performance expectations.

Then begin forward planning.

  • Brainstorm approaches you could consider taking for each of the four strategies in the Matrix.
  • Prioritize the approaches based on “size of prize”, cost and assessment of the probability of success.
  • Select the approaches you feel offer the best chance for accelerating your community’s economic prosperity and recommend they get resourced as part of your “go forward” strategic plan.

Discussion

This type of strategic exercise should be done with as many key influencers in your community as possible. In my opinion, it is a great exercise to include executives from companies doing business in your community. You will end up with far more ideas than you will have either time or resources to execute. Importantly, the process of prioritization and resource definition will lead you to a Group consensus. This will create stronger leadership alignment to your strategic plan and alone is likely makes applying this Matrix worth your time.

Be sure to spend quality time on the expansion quadrant. Review your R&E call notes. Reach out to Company executives and have a meaningful conversation on what they see as barriers to success. Their input is paramount to success and impacts all four quadrants. Don’t assume you know what they think – invest the time to ask them; or better yet include them in the exercise if at all possible.

Be objective and realistic. If your strategy requires a skilled labor force that your community cannot deliver, you need to explain how you are going to attract the required labor in a timeframe that will make your plan work. Any plan that has the step – “And a miracle occurs” – as mandatory for success is doomed to fail.

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Check Out My Free eBook On Strategic Planning

This eBook provides guidance on how to create a strategic plan for your community.  If your community is impacted by the shale energy industry, I believe it is a must read.  If not, the process and model described in the eBook can still be applied to help your community create an effective strategic development plan.  Click the above link or copy and paste this link into your browser – http://strengtheningbrandamerica.com/blog/2012/03/new-ebook-on-strategic-planning/

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