New Mexico 2013 Rural Forum Thoughts

2013 Rural Forum“Destiny is not a matter of chance, but of choice. Not something to wish for, but to attain.”

— William Jennings Bryan

I was invited to give a keynote talk at the 2013 Rural Forum presented by the New Mexico Rural Alliance and New Mexico IDEA, Inc.  The Forum was a great educational experience for attendees.  I witnessed people freely sharing success models and developing even deeper trust relationships with professional colleagues from other communities across New Mexico.  As an outside observer, I would judge the Forum to be a major success and would encourage every economic development professional in a rural New Mexico community to consider attending the 2014 program.

The purpose of my talk was to introduce a new paradigm for what success looks like in economic development.  I challenged the audience to shift focus from measuring year over year job growth to better enabling New Mexico residents to achieve their American Dream.  For perspective, New Mexico is ranked #2 in the nation (Montana is ranked #1) as a state that enables resident achievement of the American Dream.

This new paradigm challenges the economic development profession to play an even larger role in facilitating strategic planning within their community and to focus on making their community a magnet for top talent as a means to becoming a magnet for capital investment.  States and communities can become more competitive by differentiating themselves as a location that enables people to achieve their American Dream, and implementing action plans to break down any existing barriers.

KEY POINTS OF THE PRESENTATION

  • Economic Development Professionals do not create jobs, employers do.  Jobs are created in response to a company’s business needs and more often than not have little to nothing to do with the work of our profession.  The best we can say is we work to capture a percent of jobs that were going to be created anyway.
  • Employers are worried about filling existing and emerging skill gaps.  More than half of projected job openings are going to come from the need to replace workers who retire or otherwise permanently leave an occupation.  But, supply is severely constrained.  For the first time in American history, the number of younger workers entering the workplace will not replace those who are leaving.  In fact, according to experts, for every two experienced workers who leave, only one will enter.
  • Employers are interested in knowing the ADCI score of communities where they have business operations and employees, and will use the ADCI score to help make a final site selection decision.  Based on a national survey, nearly 90% of senior executives indicated they believed there is a real business benefit to employees feeling like they are achieving their American Dream.  And, roughly 64% responded they would be likely to use the ADCI score to help make their final location decision.
  • The ADCI data provides a framework for Economic Development Professionals to facilitate strategic planning that can create a sustainable competitive advantage.  The ADCI gives insight into how residents feel about 35 dimensions that make up the American Dream.  These dimension scores can be compared with competitive locations to determine where the greatest opportunity to remove barriers to achieving the American Dream are.  The areas reported range from economic (which includes jobs) to the environment.  It is a 360-degree assessment of a location based on the perception of the people who know it best – the residents. Using these data for strategic planning will lead to better choice making and action planning.

INTERESTING QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE

I have never heard a CEO in a Board Room say that quality of life is why a location was selected, so why should I set improving the ADCI score as the goal for my community?

This is a great question!  And, I know it is the question that needs to be answered convincingly to shift the existing paradigm in our profession.

The fact is the site selection decision is one where after due diligence the remaining location options are essentially equivalent in their ability to meet the “must have” project requirements and on a 10-year project NPV basis.  As a consequence, there is no rational basis upon which to decide.  The final decision is more often than not an emotional decision.  When a person (CEOs included) makes an emotional decision, they often rationalize it.  Nobody wants to be seen as an emotional leader, everybody wants to be seen as thoughtful and sage.  But, lacking a rational basis to differentiate between options, make no mistake, the final decision is emotional.

On the flight back to Ohio from New Mexico, I had time to further contemplate this question.  And it dawned on me that most of us have actually heard CEOs say that quality of life was the deciding factor in their location decision.  They just don’t use that terminology, so we don’t recognize their comment for what it is.  Instead CEOs say things like – “We felt the community we selected was a better fit for our company” or “We believe the community we selected shared the same values as our company” or “We could more easily see our company achieving its long-term goals in the community we selected”.  These are all ways CEOs have of expressing the emotional basis of their final decision.

If you are interested in reading more on this subject, I have authored a white paper entitled “Emotion In Making Site Selection Decisions”.

DISCUSSION

What are some of the phrases you have heard from CEOs for why they selected a competing community for their business operation?  I think it would be fun to compile a list.  Also, if you have stories that illustrate CEOs making their final decision based on emotion, please share.  The example I often use is the CEO who graduated from the University of Michigan and swore he’d never invest a dime in Ohio because the Buckeyes consistently embarrass his Wolverines in football.  Any examples you have from your experience (or you have heard from others) will be great to share with the group.

I’d also like to know your questions about the ADCI data.  I will do my best to answer them based on my knowledge.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

This speaking opportunity introduced me to the Village of Los Lunas, New Mexico.  I was very impressed with the work that Jim Glover (Once A Day Marketing) and Ralph Mims (Economic Development Manager) are doing to support Mayor Robert Vialpando’s forward-looking economic development agenda.  I believe this is an emerging case study of the positive impact focusing on better enabling residents to achieve their American Dream can deliver a community.  All you need to do is explore the Village’s website to observe their passion for serving residents.  The opening section of the Village’s strategic plan reads –

“Through planning, a community can achieve feelings of pride, security, and accomplishment.  Planning is a consistent way to show a caring attitude toward community, its residents and future residents.”

I had an opportunity to tour Los Lunas  and speak with Robert.  His passion, and that of the other Village leadership, for helping residents achieve an ever-improving life is genuine and totally in keeping with the mission of enabling them to better achieve their American Dream.  It should be no surprise Los Lunas is one of the fastest growing communities in New Mexico.  It is becoming a magnet for the skilled labor that is mission critical for current and future companies succeed.

If you want to learn more about the branding work going on in Los Lunas, contact Jim Glover.  I am confident he’d love to talk with you about it and help you better understand how to reapply some of what the team has learned.

Read About My Journey To Learn More About The American Dream

American Dream Case Study Series

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