Economic development focus

For those of you Joe Q. Publicians you may find the following a little too inside baseball but I had some interesting conversations today that are interesting to the practioners of economic development at the local level.

A guy was expressing to me his frustration that local economic development is becoming a mile wide and an inch deep.  In other words, the funding provided by various government departments (and even the private sector) is becoming more and more tied to specific activities and local economic development agenices are spreading very thin and not able to be really good at anything.  A typical economic development agency (local) in at least Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is now involved in: investment attraction, trade development, youth employment, targeted group employment, small business counselling, immigration attraction, community marketing and promotion, infrastructure development, lobbying, public relations, fostering R&D, and on and on.

I am not suggesting that any of these things are not worthy causes but, as my colleague said this morning, funding partners eventually come with a critical eye and say that the economic development agencies aren’t adding a whole lot of value.

So what is the solution?  I would suggest that, depending on the organization and the community, the economic development agency should be really good at a few things and act as a triage for everything else.  There are whole government departments that are mandated to do a lot of the things that local economic development agencies are now taking on. 

The trick is deciding what to focus on – what to be really good at and I would suggest that depends on the need in the local area.

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