How Does The Economic Development Profession Increase Its Relevance?

Ed Burghard“Don’t Confuse Activity With Performance” – John Wooden

The Albuquerque Business First ran an article about the 2013 Rural Forum entitled “New Mexicans Have High Hopes About Achieving The American Dream”.  It shares perspective on Xavier University’s American Dream Composite Index.  New Mexico is ranked #2 nationally, and with some work to close the performance gaps identified by the ADCI data, the state can become #1.

The discussions after the presentation were really interesting.  There were a number of questions related to better understanding the characteristics of high performing states and what makes them different than low performers.  I thought it was an intriguing question and worth further exploration.

What Differentiates The Top 3 Performing States From The Bottom 3 States?

To answer the question, I indexed the average score of the top and bottom 3 states for all 35 ADCI dimensions and identified those with an index of 110 or greater.

The Top 3 States outperform the Bottom 3 States in the following dimensions:

Personal Health Satisfaction with physical and mental health.
Access to Education Ability to access a quality and affordable education.
Satisfaction With Residence Satisfaction with where one lives.
Home Ownership Desire and ability to own a home.
Job Benefits Satisfaction with job benefits and security.
Financial Security Satisfaction with financial situation.
Material Prosperity Ability to meet expenses and afford desired material possessions.
Fruits of My Labor The extent to which one is rewarded fairly for efforts in life.
Destinations in Life The ability to have a choice (with regard to job, housing, travel, etc.)
Social Status Belief that one is well regarded by others.
Family Support Availability of help and emotional support of one’s family.
Support of Friends Availability of emotional and tangible help from friends.
Support of Someone Special Availability of care and support from a certain special person.
Happiness Satisfaction and contentment with one’s life.
Optimism Expectation of good things for oneself in life.
Trust in People Satisfaction with people’s fairness and trustworthiness.
Safety in Community Extent of safety where one lives.

When you take two steps back, the differences read like a page of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory.  All locations deliver on the physiological needs.  But locations differ in their ability to deliver the safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization needs of their residents.

If you want to strengthen your community brand, you need to ensure the systems and processes are in place to help residents address both their physical and psychological needs. To the extent another location does a better job at this, your community will not preferentially attract the skilled labor required to support businesses, and as a direct consequence businesses in your community will struggle finding the talent required to be successful in the marketplace.

These systems need to be effective, well coordinated, easy to access, fair, sustainable and residents need to be aware they exist.  The biggest challenge I think most communities have is the shear number of organizations involved in the design and deployment of these systems.  Many of these organizations have their own agendas and often create confusion and inefficiencies by not working together to deliver results.


Residents want more than year-over-year job growth.  They want a well balanced life and the confidence their American Dream is achievable.  The communities capable of enabling residents to achieve their American Dream will become magnets for top talent.  The top talent that companies require to be successful.

The winning communities will be those that place residents at the center of their strategic planning process and make decisions that will close the performance gaps identified by the ADCI data.  This will require Economic Development Organizations to rethink their mission, and for the profession to reinvent itself.


The economic development profession can (and should) play a leadership role in the facilitation of a community’s strategic planning process to drive out complexity and inefficiencies in order to better enable residents to achieve their American Dream.  Public and Private Sector leaders will actually design the strategic plan, but; the economic development profession can be accountable for ensuring a robust design and deployment process.

This expands the role of local economic development beyond job attraction, retention and expansion.  The role shifts from a primarily transactional focus to include stewarding the strategic planning and deployment process, and thereby allows the economic development profession to provide even more value to a community.  The measured outcome is an improvement in how residents feel they are achieving their American Dream (i.e. improved annual ADCI score).


To embrace this new paradigm, Economic Development Organizations will need to provide their communities with a few important capabilities.  These are not necessarily new capabilities, but the degree of mastery required to be successful may be higher than in the past.

Strategic Planning and Deployment Management – EDOs will need to help local leaders better understand the opportunities their community faces and establish a clear direction.  EDOs will be accountable for 1) enrolling the right community leaders and ensuring a robust process is followed to design a competitive strategic plan, 2) for ensuring all supporting organizations understand the strategic plan and have action plans with clearly defined deliverables, and 3) for monitoring progress in achieving the strategic plan outcomes.

Negotiation/Conflict Resolution – In any major strategy design and deployment process, conflicts arise when objectives are not aligned.  EDOs will need to facilitate negotiation of win:win agreements that enable the choices made in the strategic plan to be successfully executed.  Economic Development Professionals will leverage the communication skills learned by negotiating with companies in the site selection process to help ensure local organizations know how and agree to support the strategic direction.


I think the future for the economic development profession will be exciting and professionally challenging.  If the new paradigm is embraced, funding should be easier to come by because the profession’s core value proposition will be enhanced.  In years where new jobs are challenging to come by, the role of facilitating strategy design and deployment will ensure the value added is visible.

What are your thoughts?  What are the positive things you see that the new paradigm offers for your professional development/satisfaction?  What are the challenges you see to the economic development profession adopting the new paradigm?

Thinking about the Top 3 versus Bottom 3 analysis, what are your hypotheses as to why such performance gaps exist between states?  Share some examples of programs you think might help the Bottom 3 states close the performance gaps.

Leave a Comment and Share Your Thoughts.

Read About My Journey To Learn More About The American Dream

American Dream Case Study Series

Indiana versus Michigan

Florida versus North Carolina

New York versus New Jersey

California versus Texas

Pennsylvania versus New York

North Carolina versus Texas

Ohio versus Michigan

How Easy Is It To Achieve The American Dream In Your State?

To view the complete set of State rankings based on the ADCI and five explanatory sub-indexes, simply click this button

Ad 160X110

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

1 Comment  |   Forward this to a friend Forward this to a friend   |   Number of emails sent: 545

Category Leadership, Measures, Place Brand Building

Bookmark and Share

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

One Response to “How Does The Economic Development Profession Increase Its Relevance?”

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

By submitting a comment here you grant Strengthening Brand America a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate comments will be removed at admin's discretion.

SBA Blog