The following column was originally published in the Florida Chamber of Commerce magazine to focus on the important role local chambers play in economic development.
Jobs. Investment. Wages. Taxes. Entrepreneurship. Incentives. Construction. All of these terms have been used to define economic development. Depending on where one lives, all could be right, some could be right, or none could be correct. Defining economic development is different for every one of Florida’s 67 counties. While defining economic development is hard, knowing who is responsible is pretty easy.
At its heart, economic development is the ultimate local issue. What is an appropriate and goal-worthy definition of economic development for Ocala (my home) will be very different than the definition in Miami which will be equally different from Pensacola’s definition. Even more important than the definition is the implementation. Whatever your definition, how are you going to practice economic development? Again, this is really a local issue but one in which the state and federal governments play a tremendous part.
Think about the most recent economic development announcements you have seen. In those announcements, were the companies selecting a state or a community? I can almost guarantee that the press release states the company was selecting a community. In fact, when I looked at the three most recent announcements on Enterprise Florida’s website, all three announced companies selecting a community (Lockheed Martin in Orlando, Virgin Voyages in Broward County, and Allegiant Airline in Fort Walton Beach). Even the much ballyhooed Amazon HQ2 coverage has been about which cities (not states) are still in the running.
Economic development happens on the local level. The work of chambers/EDCs and local officials (elected and appointed) are where economic development occurs. At the end of the day, companies are choosing and investing in buildings and land in specific cities with specific workforces. The local business climate plays a vital role in this process and that climate needs to reflect the community’s definition and goals of economic development. How a community wants to grow (or not grow) should be reflected in the community’s approach to taxation, zoning, infrastructure investment, workforce development, etc. and no one is better suited to make these decisions than those who live in the community.
As much as economic development is driven on and about local communities, the state plays an incredibly important role. Many tax and regulatory issues are state issues and impact the ability of communities to attract and/or sustain the types of economic development they desire. State policies and approaches can significantly impact (positively or negatively) the ability of a community reach its goals. A negative comment or approach by a state leader can and will color every community in a negative light.
Whatever your definition of economic development, know that the competition is fierce. There are over 3,000 economic development organizations in the US working to attract investment, jobs, and talent to their communities. While all of our communities want and need the support of our state government and elected officials, if your community is not charting and pursuing your own course it will be a struggle. When a company invests in your community, whether it is an attraction project, an expansion, or an entrepreneur, no one benefits more than the local community and at the end of the day no one is more responsible than the local community.