Mark Lautman CEcD, Lautman Economic Architecture LLC

It’s the flip of the causal dynamics in the job-creation game that will force most communities to look for a new business model. This doesn’t mean communities can back off funding their traditional program efforts. In fact, to stay competitive, most will probably need to double down on many elements of the old game. Professional lead generation and sales efforts, inventory and business climate improvement and incentives are as important as ever. If the workers your employers need want to live somewhere else, all the incentives in the world won’t help. You can’t buy your way out of a poor or mediocre community, when it comes to the workforce and other factors.

What it does mean is that educators, workforce developers, community developers, boutique retail businesses and cultural entrepreneurs (once outlier beneficiaries of the economic development process) are now the linchpins, and in many ways, the leading edge of a community or regional job-creation strategy.

Economic development now is as much about attracting, growing and retaining qualified workers as it is about attracting, growing and retaining employers.

So what will the new business model look like?

To begin, it will likely have at least four major components:

1) job creation

2) workforce development

3) community quality development – which would include workforce housing

4) an overarching analytics, planning and management function

Essentially, it amounts to designing and developing an entirely new parallel wing to your existing employer-focused economic development apparatus, with a tandem community quality program, calibrated to the physical, economic and psychographic needs of the qualified workers, desperately needed to staff the future economy.

A talent-attraction strategy will need to mirror the community’s job-creation efforts. A new model will need to be substantially more comprehensive, more strategic and more coordinated than anything like it before.

Instead of iterating the number of economic base jobs that must be created in which industries over the next ten years, what it is going to take to get them there and who is responsible for getting it done, a talent attraction strategy lays out how many and what kinds of qualified workers will be needed to staff the future economy, from where they will come, what it’s going to take to grow them, recruit them and retain them and who’s on the hook for getting it done.

Figuring out how to weave economic, workforce and community development into a new integrated and strategic business model is one of the great civic challenges of our time, which, by the way, is the most exciting time to be in economic development since the 1930s.

Where does one start? What’s the process?

It’s important to start by understanding the nature of the problem and its probable impact on the viability of the community. Developing a sense of urgency to address the problem is also critical. Economic, workforce and community development are all about what happens in the future. It takes five to seven years for most program solutions, conceived today, to begin moving the needle. So, any new business model should be designed and built for the economic and demographic realities of 2019 -2024.

The next step is having a well-defined economic development plan. Community leaders have to get over the irrationality of trying to plan a future economy in increasingly volatile and uncertain times. You still have to do it. In fact, the more uncertain the future, the more important it is to plan and plan.


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