Article Features Wayne Schell

Tips for Successful Local Economic Development

Economic development is an investment, not a cost. Both business and government play important roles in economic development. Business marshals and mobilizes human, financial, physical and natural resources to create marketable goods and services that generate a profit. Government provides infrastructure, incentives and services that support business, which in turn produces jobs and revenue.

You may have heard that economic developers only do three things: 1) attract new businesses to an area; 2) help retain and expand existing companies; and 3) create new business. But it’s not as easy as it seems. A community’s success depends on whether it is better prepared, strategically adept and more persistent than its competitors.

Here are some tips that you can put to work in your city to increase your economic development competitive edge:

  • Leadership drives local economic development and the local business climate. The city’s leadership needs to make it clear that economic development is a priority.
  • You must have a strategy. Develop a plan that spells out where you want to go, and engage your community in the process.
  • Pass a resolution adopting this strategy as a policy. Your city needs to know that you are serious.
  • Commit for the long term. It takes time to create and implement an effective economic development program.
  • Fund your program. Invest in your program with the intent of generating a return.
  • Staff your program with professionals. Volunteers are great, but they are no substitute for a paid, committed staff charged with implementing your economic development strategy.
  • Communicate and cooperate. Create partnerships with key stakeholders, such as your workforce investment boards and community colleges so you’re not out there trying to do it alone.
  • Retention equals attraction. Taking care of the businesses your city already has will communicate that your community is an attractive place for businesses to locate.
  • Customer service is essential. Your ability to deliver quickly is extremely important.
  • Results are important. Economic development may be a long-term process, but you have to identify and celebrate your short-term results.
  • Measure your success. Decide how you’re going to measure your efforts and then track your performance.
  • Communicate your success to the community. It’s not enough to know that you are reaching your goals. You must share this success with your city’s residents and businesses so they can celebrate and share the vision with you.

There are no overnight sensations in the world of local economic development. Lasting, future-oriented economic development requires a commitment to building an organization the right way and creating a product that can compete with the best — locally as well as nationally and globally. Successful economic development organizations have consistent goals, objectives and funding arrangements and a long-term commitment to staff.

As you work toward building better communities, remember that the California Association for Local Economic Development offers resources to support your efforts. For more information, visit or call (916) 448-8252.

Wayne Schell is president and chief executive officer of the California Association for Local Economic Development (CALED).

This article appears in the May 2006 issue of Western City
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