I don't remember what year it was, but I remember the conference when I first heard a familiar question answered with a somewhat surprising - to me, anyway - response. It was at a Roundtable in the Rockies in Colorado, an event I attended more than a dozen times over the years, that featured presentations by site location consultants to economic developers with lots of Q&A time along with networking opportunities with the speakers as well as peers. After one such presentation, the following exchange occurred:
Economic Developer: What is the single biggest difference in communities that win a lot of projects and those that always seem to struggle in recruitment?
Consultant: I'd have to say the follow-up. Definitely the follow-up. Get us what we ask for, in the time frame in which we ask for it.
I later made it a point to speak with that consultant privately. I was curious in that I assumed all economic development organizations handled this simple task in a professional and timely manner. Not so. Time and time again, I have heard this response over the years, which has been the topic of many conversations between my closest peers and me, with the same two thoughts usually rising to the top of our discussions:
- It's befuddling that so many in our profession don't execute on simple requests for follow-up information; I can't imagine what's more important, especially when you figure that a request for additional information, whether it be after a Request for Information (RFI) or even an actual site visit, means that you are still in play for the project!
- As disappointing as this is to learn about some members of our profession, it also presents a very easy opportunity to stand out as an EDO. Whether you win a project or not, if you handle each step in the process, consultants will give you more chances as the communities presented to their clients and their performances are a reflection on them; they are repeat customers, which is, in part, why we spend so much effort on marketing to them.
It is not only working with prospective new business clients that follow-up makes the difference. Most every aspect of economic development is time sensitive. And few of them are easy tasks. Lots of people know what needs to be done. Fewer know how to execute. None always know the proper way to execute. But the best economic development results are realized by timely action.
It's been about a year ago that we began the follow-up to our Strategic Planning Retreat. And there's been lots of action since then. Just so you don't have to go through past newsletters, here's a quick summary of that exercise:
- Our strategic and work plans, along with our mission statement, were modified and approved.
- Three areas for a particularly sharp focus and Board involvement were identified: Product (Property) Development, Regionalism, and Workforce Development.
First of all, I must commend and thank our community partners and investors for their support to fund property development - which will include site preparation on some existing properties and the purchase of others - in the amount of about $8 million. Not only is this investment needed if we are to compete in industrial recruitment, the commitment demonstrates our prioritization of economic development. I feel especially fortunate to work for communities with such strong leaders who are willing to seek and perform the duties of public office.
The second topic, regionalism, has received so much attention over the past year or two that many of you might be tired of hearing about it. Please don't be. It's worth the effort. It's worth it because it works; in fact, it might just be the only pathway for us to optimize our growth potential in terms of population, career opportunities, educational options, and quality of life amenities. Not only are we - staff and our Board of Directors - deeply engaged in efforts around this subject such as Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable's and Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Economic Development, the Tri-Cities chambers of commerce growing regionalism committee, a regional naming process, and a handful of other groups' activities, we are working alongside the Northeast Tennessee Regional
Economic Partnership (NeTREP) to develop a formal collaborative strategy (and potential new organization) to serve all of Northeast Tennessee and identify and execute projects with Southwest Virginia where appropriate. We hope to have something out for public consumption in the upcoming months.
Workforce development efforts received both a boost and delay when Dr. Jeff McCord departed Northeast State Community College (and the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing) to accept Governor Lee's offer to become Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. We've already leaned on Commissioner McCord so that's been a really good thing for our region, but it temporarily left us without a chairman of this committee. Still, we have been studying some of the best practices across our state and working with partners and other stakeholders in creating our own initiatives as well as continuing to advance key initiatives (usually in a support role) such as the Education2Employment Summit and the Work Ready Community Certification program.
We've also been hard at it as we prepare for our sixth annual Northeast Tennessee Red Carpet Tour (speaking of regionalism), working with Tri-Cities Airport in marketing Aerospace Park (still more regionalism), and representing our little part of the state with the Tennessee Economic Partnership (that's right, even more regionalism).
Before closing and leaving you to read more details about the economic development goings-on of the last three months in the stories that follow, I should make one note. Our newsletters are not meant to discuss and report each and every activity of our staff and partners. Much of what we do is confidential and even if we tried to include all we are doing that isn't proprietary, you probably wouldn't have the time or desire to read about it. So, we try to hit the most pressing issues of the day and circle back when there's more to say about the others. You know, follow up on them, if you will. It's something we prioritize around here.