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The Local Government Institute has documented the factors contributing to successful collaboration for delivering services across jurisdictional boundaries in our report A Roadmap for Government Transformation. We have reported on the findings from other groups as to what makes for successful cooperation across boundaries. The latest comes from a group of economic development professionals in the midwest. Their success factors include:

  • Be clear on your goals and values
  • Focus on the customer
  • Be collaborative
  • Be transparent
  • Share the credit
  • Recognize that one size does not fit all

Here's the full article from Economic Development Now, Vol. 13, July 5, 2011:

The St. Louis County Economic Council and the St. Louis Development Corporation recently held a conference focusing on best practices in regional economic development, a first-time event aimed at fostering better coordination among regional entities.

Featured speakers were some well-known names in the field, including Robin Roberts Krieger, Executive Vice President for Economic Development at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce (which covers a 10-countiy region); Janet Miller, Chief Economic Development and Marketing Officer, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce (also covering 10 counties), and Bob Marcusse, President and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council (serving 18 counties in two states).

All talked about how their groups work regionally and what they believe contributes to success. Here's a synthesis of their common themes.

Be clear on your goals and values.

In terms of strategy, you have to understand who you are and what you want to be in order to be successful, said Miller. There are always "sexy" new industries out there to go after; today it's solar, while 10 years ago it was life sciences. Target sectors have to be an intersection of your aspirations and what's realistic.

Organizationally, Marcusse believes that the clarity of values that underpins KCADC's culture is a competitive advantage, including a set of outward values that guides the organization's external work and a set of inward values that guides how KCADC functions internally. "We can compete based on what we have, but we can win based on what we are," Marcusse said.

Focusing on what you really want to be about also means having the discipline to say "no" when necessary, noted Marcusse. "When you are a successful organization, you get asked to do a lot of things," he said. "Each organization has to stay within the lines and do its job. When you say no, the solution is found elsewhere."

Focus on the customer.

"No matter who you are or what kind of entity you are, the customer wants a one-stop-shop model," said Roberts Krieger, whose group focuses on providing services for companies and site selectors. It confuses the client if you tell them to call different entities for different needs, she said; instead, her managers think of themselves as case workers, handling issues for clients all throughout the process.

Be collaborative.

Twenty years ago, Marcusse said, he believed that his organization had to do it all. "But I was wrong," he said. "We have to be a leader in the field of collaboration. Some days we have to be the quarterback…and a lot of days, we just have to block and tackle for somebody else because it's not about who's doing it, it's about what happens."

County lines mean nothing to workers and companies, said Miller, noting that in a regional context, "if we don't all get along, we all lose. Preaching the rising tide philosophy is so important - everybody wins if you can figure out how to get along," she said.

Regions should think of and present themselves as economic engines, rather than collections of entities, Miller added. Passing off projects or leads can't look like a hostage swap at the county line. Any sign of risk or infighting can knock a region off a prospect's list, as they think, "if they're fighting now, what will it be like once we're there?"

Be transparent.

Transparency applies in multiple ways. Transparency in goals - defining what you are going to accomplish on day one and making it public - ensures that both team members and outside stakeholders know which way the ball is going.

Transparency in metrics provides a common message and scorecard, and helps assure both stakeholders and critics that there is nothing to hide. But being metrics-driven is not easy: Once you put your metrics out there, you'll be expected to meet them. "You have to be courageous enough to be measured," said Miller.

In addition, transparency in process builds trust. As an example, Miller spoke of a recent meeting of economic developers in the 10-county Nashville region to hammer out a process for referring projects, rather than the chamber developing the process alone and handing it down fully formed.

Share the credit.

If you are in the business [of economic development] to get the credit, Miller said, get out of the business. Sharing credit applies both to partner organizations and among one organization's staff. Marcusse spoke of it in terms ofservant leadership - the concept of leading from a desire to serve, rather than an aspiration to be at the top. "My job is to enable my team to find their greatness, to find the tools they need to do their job at an extraordinarily successful level," and ensure they get credit for their work, said Marcusse.

Recognize that one size doesn't fit all.

"There is no right or wrong structure" for economic development organizations, said Roberts Krieger. There are advantages to public, private and partnership models. Form should follow function, said Marcusse. It's about having an ecosystem in which everyone understands their role, added Miller.

Much of what the group shared applies to far more than just regional economic development. To learn more about the conference and their remarks, view a video of the conference here.

Choose Your Region
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