Sir Winston Churchill
Every New Year should bring about a renewed look at your community’s development strategies. It is a time for taking two steps back, assessing tactical progress made and retesting both the wisdom and sustainability of the strategies driving your organization’s activities. If it is not your organization’s practice to do this, I encourage you to begin a new annual business practice.
As I think about the role of economic development, three key strategic questions come to mind that should be asked and answered to ensure your community is on the right track.
The Three Key Questions
First – Do you have the right organizational objective?
I know, the knee-jerk reaction is to respond: “Of course we do!” But, does your current organizational objective directly impact the lives of 100% of residents or less than 2% of residents in your community?
I believe if your organizational objective is focused primarily on job growth, you may want to rethink it. Growing jobs in your community will directly impact only 2% or less of residents. I don’t know how you feel, but I do not find getting out of bed to make a difference in the lives of 2% or less of my community’s residents particularly inspiring. I am just as likely to hit the snooze button as get up for work. And that is a shame, because economic development should be inspiring.
What is the logic behind the 2% figure? National statistics suggest about 1/3 of unemployed people are actually employable, another 1/3 could be employable with additional skill training, and the remaining 1/3 will always be unemployed for one reason or another. The typical community has less than 6% unemployment. In fact the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of December 4, 2015 the national average is 5%. But, to make the arithmetic easy, let’s stick with 6%. When a company decides to hire, it will draw primarily from the employable pool. That means new jobs (either from companies you attract or companies in your community that grow) will at best impact roughly 2% of your residents. That is actually an aggressive estimate, because we all know companies will fill some of those jobs with people from outside your community and some of them with residents who are already working for other companies within your community. So, 2% could (and probably should) be considered a maximum upside direct impact estimate. You are more likely getting out of bed to directly impact the lives of 1%.
How does your organization positively impact significantly more residents? First, change your paradigm from business centered economic development to resident centered economic development. Successful businesses in your community are a means to an end. You need to work on better enabling residents of your community to achieve their American Dream. This objective has the potential to impact 100% of the residents in your community. I would strongly argue it is a much more motivational objective. But, it does require your organization to think differently and it requires you to acquire new skills. If your curiosity is peaked and you want to learn more about resident centered economic development, read this post I authored: It Is Time For A Resident Centered Economic Development Approach To Economic Development .
Second – Do you understand your community’s brand promise?
Does your organization have a clearly articulated statement of how your community is differentiated versus competition? Based on my experience and after talking with economic development professionals across the nation, the candid answer is typically NO. Yet, this is a key requirement to success.
Consider the following simple success formula.
This formula recognizes the interdependency between improving the competitiveness of your community and your ability to market or sell it to existing (or new) residents and companies. As an economic development organization, this means being involved in the strategic decision making around asset creation, infrastructure improvement and public policy/programming is mission critical to your ability to competitively position your community.
I believe every community should have as its objective – Better enabling residents to achieve their American Dream. The way communities will competitively differentiate is in HOW they better enable achievement. Every community has unique assets, infrastructure and policies. The unique combination of these is where your community’s competitive difference exists. Xavier University has created a quantitative assessment (ADCI) of the degree to which residents believe they are achieving their American Dream. My blog post entitled How To Use The American Dream Data For Community Development provides an infographic describing the process for how to determine your community’s competitive advantages and disadvantages.
Third – Are your community’s strategic and tactical plan of action still correct?
Every day the world changes. Even if your community is struggling with making a decision to move forward, that doesn’t mean the competition is. Mark Twain once said “To stand still is to fall behind”. It is important to annually reassess the competitive landscape and determine if anything has changed that will negatively impact the strategies and tactics your community is pursuing. There is nothing worse than blindly investing time and money in support of a path that will no longer serve your community well.
Remarkably, I find communities rarely take the time to step back and check the competitiveness of their strategic plans. The press of making forward progress blinds the to the fact that the strategic direction is no longer right. Nothing is worse than the illusion of progress. If you are running in circles, running faster does not get you further.
Your community strategies and tactics need to be objectively reviewed at least annually to ensure they remain competitive. Your community operates in a dynamic not static competitive environment.
I know the above questions are tough to answer. And, I expect most readers will say they already ask these questions. But, I challenge you to be objective. If your community leaders do not have an annual and robust discussion of the above questions, then you’ve only answered them superficially and that is simply not sufficient to win.
Love to get your feedback. I’d particularly love to hear if you have case examples of a quality annual strategy review.