BY SHARON HILLSTROM
Savvy business managers know that staying abreast of trends affecting their industry can make or break their competitiveness and ability to grow sales and profits. For example, retailers who ignore the explosion of e-commerce do so at their own peril.
The profession of economic development is no different. Understanding the global and demographic trends that affect decisions on where businesses want to locate or expand is key to our ability to help our community attract and retain good jobs for local residents.
At the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. (EDC), we also need to grasp our changing role in shaping a community where businesses want to be.
A resource that helps us stay on top of the big picture and best practices for our profession is the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), a non-profit membership organization serving some 4,000 economic developers worldwide.
In a 2014 research paper, “Looking Around the Corner: The Future of Economic Development,” the IEDC examined global trends that will shape the role of economic developers for the next 10 to 15 years. The Bradenton area is already benefiting from some of the recommendations, which are reflected in our multi-year strategy, “The Build Bradenton Area Plan.”
A key tactical approach the paper highlights is the need for economic development organizations (EDOs) to convene partners for collaboration. By forging relationships through targeted discussions, we can develop community assets and identify barriers and opportunities to help desirable business sectors grow.
According to the authors: “It is likely that one organization will not have the resources or the knowledge to deal with every unknown issue that arises. EDOs will need to work collaboratively with partners so that challenges can be addressed comprehensively. This may include working both horizontally with organizations in your community, as well as vertically, with entities at different levels or even in different countries.”
At the EDC, we have demonstrated the sage nature of this advice. In 2009, we convened business leaders from Manatee County’s sports performance industry, galvanizing unprecedented interaction among these related businesses. These efforts led the region and state in identifying sports performance as a viable industry sector for job creation and capital investment by businesses.
In the past year, we have turned our attention to convening educators to collaborate on addressing the workforce development needs of local employers.
Last month, we convened our first quarterly discussion among leaders from K-12, technical and higher education. At this session, the topic was a pathway toward engineering education related to the needs of Manatee County businesses. All of the partners at the table “own” various pieces of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. They experienced numerous “aha!” moments as they learned how their programs can interrelate for the benefit of students and employers.
We also will convene roundtable discussions with leaders from various industries to address challenges and opportunities. Leaders from educational institutions will be present to learn what local industries need from a workforce perspective now and into the future.
Convening to spur collaboration is becoming a key role for economic developers. In the Bradenton area, we’re on the leading edge of the trend.