In tough economic times government and community leaders understandably look to their economic development organizations (EDOs—officially called ADOs in Washington, but mostly referred to as EDCs and EDBs) for a vision and strategy to boost employment and turns things around—and they expect to see results.
The Puget Sound Region is privileged to have a robust network of highly effective economic development organizations. Even in the midst of recession and now a sluggish recovery, we’ve seen new recruitment announcements, redoubled business retention efforts, and a host of exciting new cluster development programs.
But, after years of lean times and budget cuts, lately we’ve started to hear some question: Are we asking our economic developers to do too much with too little?
For years, our region has prospered without the need for the massive cash handouts and aggressive marketing and recruitment efforts used by our competitors in the west and southeast (one of my personal favorite marketing campaigns: CO’s Valentines to CA businesses). Thanks to our rich talent pool, innovative businesses, and natural beauty, people and businesses don’t need quite the inducement to come here and stay here that they do in some other, less fortunate states (Alabama, South Carolina—I’m talking about you).
I’d argue that that’s both a blessing and a curse.
As the economy begins to recover, we’ve got to be mindful that there are a lot of regions around the U.S. and the world that have suffered far worse than us that will be hungry to capture whatever growth they can. That means that the already cutthroat economic development game is about to become even more competitive than it’s been.
Lately we’ve been researching the funding and expenditure levels of our economic development organizations relative to our key competitors to try to determine if our EDOs have the tools they need to achieve the results we’ve come to expect. As we move forward toward the development of our next regional economic strategy, it’s important that these concerns remain a part of the conversation.