Communities won’t be able to get away with running a competent employer recruiting, retention and expansion program anymore. Most face four daunting tasks:
1. Innovate new program approaches
2. Invest more in traditional programs expecting diminishing returns
3. Elevate job creation, workforce development and community development to truly strategic levels
4. Integrate them into a seamless strategy.
Currently, we have no proven program approaches for many of the fastest growing and highest paying economic sectors driving the economy.Communities must find the will and the resources to invest in the innovation of a pallet of new program approaches, methodologies and business models. Talent attraction and community development will have to be elevated to a strategic level and integrated into the overall economic development strategy, on a level that was never considered before.
Traditional job creation approaches that still work will need more investment even though they are earning diminishing returns. Higher marketing costs and higher attrition rates among economic base employers means kissing more frogs and spending more to procure, while the lifecycle of the jobs created continue to shorten. This means that the local economic development ROI expectations must be reset to bear the higher cost of procuring new economic base jobs. Traditional programs today must put more boots on the ground to kiss more frogs, staff up to manage a bigger case load (pipeline) of prospects, and carry a bigger closing fund, in order to close what will amount to fewer deals, smaller in average size, lasting half as long as in past decades. The accelerating rate of technological innovation, network communications and globalization is making it increasingly difficult for economic base employers to achieve long-term competitive advantage in the markets where they compete.
In the past, local economic development groups were able to operate effectively and efficiently with a relatively small, siloed economic development team of industrial and office real estate developers, contractors, commercial lenders and city planning/regulatory staff. Rarely, if ever, did they have to include the educators, healthcare providers, social workers, philanthropy and community development stakeholders, in order to be effective. All local economic development groups had to grow their economies faster than their population, to lower the factors of production costs for the target employer. Once an employment project was under construction, qualified workers would be recruited from outside the region, homes would be built, the tax base would expand and the community would have surplus revenue to improve community quality – new parks, improved schools, a rejuvenated downtown with a diverse and compelling spectrum of restaurants, art galleries, boutique shops and other entertainment centers.
Elevating, in this case, means that the community’s programmatic approaches to economic, workforce and community development must become both strategic and integrated. However, the present situation suggests that the programs we have in place fulfill none of these conditions.