Strengthening Brand America: Accountability, Impact, Role and Success of Economic Developers

Ed Burghard recently fielded a market research study among economic development peers in order to explore to whom they feel accountable, the impact of the work, the role in strategic planning, and how to measure success. Some very interesting finds from the survey.

When asked to whom they feel accountable, the results were interesting. Burghard shows a significant number of respondents feel accountable towards their elected officials, boards of directors, and businesses, rather than specifically to the people in the communities. (Note: I will concede that some respondents may look at “elected officials” as an extension of the “community residents” category, but 41% still consider a combination of business and boards as their primary bosses)

I would venture a guess that most all of our organizations were founded with a foundational goal of helping businesses grow in order to create job opportunities for these community residents, yet they aren’t the highest priority in our self-reported accountability ladder. Maybe these responses are due to the performance pressures put upon us by boards and elected officials (especially as we approach the end of the year and all eyes are on the metrics)…but I think it’s safe to say that most of us consider the mission-oriented nature of the work we do to be possibly the most satisfying aspect of the job. These responses tell we may need to recalibrate our accountability perspectives just a bit and remember why we’re doing what we’re doing…

The next question asked “Who creates jobs?”. Rightfully so, the responding peers overwhelmingly suggested that it’s the businesses that create jobs. A good signal that we have a grasp on reality. (See an earlier post regarding what as economic developers focus more on measuring what we control when we measure our effectiveness as economic developers.)

Responses to the last question validated (in my unbiased little mind) my hypothesis that the economic development professional’s position as “thought leader” is in question. Ed asked respondents out the economic developer’s role as facilitator versus participant of strategic planning, as well as what they believe that role ought to be. Most respondents do not feel positioned as facilitator but only a participant, but overwhelmingly most feel they should have such a facilitator position.

What does that suggest about the opinion that our boards, businesses, elected officials, and community residents have when it comes to the capabilities of the economic development professional? It tells me that we have some work to do. We absolutely must crank up the capability but also the communication. We need to be better at what we do, and better at explaining to others what we do.

Last week at Engage 2013, it was clear that many peers feel challenged by their boards and communities in that they don’t feel positioned as thought leaders, constantly leveraging outside perspectives to prove their own initiatives, thus creating inefficiencies in time and resources all along the strategic planning path. Those organizations that do have that thought leadership position are, not coincidentally, those organizations that are thought of by all of us as the “best practice” leaders in the economic development peer universe.

I look forward to seeing more thoughts on this and how it relates to the American Dream Index and hope that IEDC chooses to include this content in an upcoming forum.

Thanks for sharing.

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