Strategic economic development plans are integral to achieving measurable, sustainable economic growth and quality of place.
By putting a formal plan in place, communities can take control of their economic development, set clear and attainable economic development objectives, and design policies and programs to achieve them. Without a plan, your economic future is reactive at best. At worst, it’s in the hands of others – especially in this time of uncertainty.
But how do you create a strategic economic development plan? Where should you begin? How can you make sure your plan is actionable? Here are five steps to developing a plan that is right for you, one that will lay the foundation for long-term economic viability.
Economic development plans are carefully and strategically built frameworks. Long-term in scope, they provide a pathway that communities can follow to overcome diverse, often challenging situations. They can help you account for the following if created the right way:
The creation of a strategic economic development plan is often led by an economic development professional and typically reviewed on a yearly basis. Most plans are recreated entirely every 3-5 years (often sooner given the pace of change and uncertainty in today’s economy) to ensure they align with ever-changing needs. Step five below digs deeper on the importance of continuous evaluation.
Whether you lack a formal strategy or are seeking to update an outdated plan, you’ve accepted the need and embraced responsibility. This is the first and most important step.
Next, you need to create a team of key stakeholders who are committed to developing a strategic plan. “Key” isn’t used loosely here; each member should have a distinct role not only within your community but on the team. In addition, a dynamic plan requires a dynamic team. Your list of potential representatives should consider the following types of individuals:
The size of your community will likely dictate the size of your team. But, as a general rule, your team should comprise between 6-12 members. Fewer than six and you might lack the diversity needed to approach your plan from a number of important angles. More than 12 and you might end up with too many voices to reach an amicable consensus ("too many cooks in the kitchen").
A strategic economic development plan can be complex, but it’s important to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible. The most successful plans are understandable to your key stakeholders and economic development officials. Ultimately, the success of your economic development plan hinges on the activities, investments and programs you have in place to, for example, increase employment and job quality, improve quality of life for today and in the long term, and boost the overall business climate.
Once you have a team in place and an understanding of the initiatives needed to create sustainable economic development, it’s time to create your plan. Begin by creating a working, fluid plan with key milestones. Your milestones should include tasks, deadlines and costs for completion and implementation. As shown above, here is an example framework: vision, mission, goals, strategies and actions.
As you create your plan, it’s important to keep in mind these six factors:
General rule of thumb: You should be able to present your vision in 30-45 minutes. Why so brief? This is the typical amount of time available at Chamber, Rotary and similar business meetings. Longer presentations can be tailored to individual organizations or forums as necessary, but the more straightforward your presentation the more likely your audience is to understand and engage.
Much like any capital improvement plan, implementation of your economic development plan should be based on key projects and programs upcoming or in the works. Prioritize by short-, medium- and long-term goals, and consider costs associated with implementation. Implementation (i.e., “action”) must be a standalone chapter or section within your plan document.
Short-term, quick-win programs might include:
Long-term, strategic programs might include:
Your ultimate goal is to be the first in your area to develop an economic niche.
Truly strategic economic development plans are dynamic and fluid. It’s unwise to “set it and forget it.” Use your annual local economic development report card or other progress-monitoring tools to ensure that economic growth and your plan remain consistent with the vision, mission and goals you’ve established. Lastly, review your plan for modifications on a regular basis – always weighing new development, evolving economic trends and emerging technologies.
Especially in light of the current economy, many unknowns and the pandemic, the heading for this section says it all: never stop updating. Continuously evaluate your plan and your progress. This is the best way to make sure your plan aligns with the needs and goals of your community.
Dan Botich is a senior economic development professional with SEH of Indiana and leader of the SEH economic development team in Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Contact Dan for additional insight into how to create a strategic economic development plan. Contact Dan