In 2015, Fourth Economy had the opportunity to work with economic development stakeholders in Butler County, PA to develop a new system for delivering county-wide services. Ultimately, we recommended an organizational structure and defined partnership roles based on our process of stakeholder engagement and best practice research.
Now, over 3 years later, the Butler County Growth Collaborative is taking shape! I sat down with Dr. Nicholas Neupauer, President of the Butler County Community College and a member of the Collaborative’s advisory board, who is the primary convener of the Collaborative, to learn what it takes to create a new model of collaborating around economic growth (spoiler alert: it’s leadership!).
While our work with the Butler County Growth Collaborative began in 2015, the desire to create a more coordinated approach to economic development was years in the making – since 2009. However, earlier efforts were “bottom up” in their approach, minus ultimate support at the County Commissioners level, leading to the classic plan on the shelf. But as new Board of Butler County Commissioners were elected in 2015, there was an opportunity to try again.
Fortunately, this new Board of Commissioners (Osche, Geyer, and Boozel) shared this vision for greater collaboration and coordination on economic development. Such support was the missing piece that allowed over a decade’s worth of work to move the concept forward.
…There was a clear leader to establish roles, make decisions, and identify shared priorities around which to work.
With the Commissioners leading the way, Butler County hired a full time director for the Butler County Growth Collaborative. The former CEO of a steel company, Mark Gordon was the right person for the job. Because the Collaborative had been functioning as a group of roughly 10 organizations with no clear leader, it was trying to be everything to everyone. When Mark came on, there was a clear leader to establish roles, make decisions, and identify shared priorities around which to work. Furthermore, the Collaborative engaged a third party convener (Bright Lights Innovations of Hermitage, PA) to facilitate advisory board meetings. This helps to ensure that no one advisory member drives the agenda.
The organizations on the Board of the Collaborative include leaders from: the Butler County Chamber of Commerce, Tri-County Workforce Board, Butler County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Butler Transit Authority, Cranberry Township, Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, Community Development Corporation of Butler County, and Butler County Community College. Most of the individuals representing these organizations have over a decade of experience in their respective positions.
They know each other, they’ve fought hard battles, and while they bring experience, they also bring open minds. Over the years, they have been consistent and gentle champions of collaboration. If someone wasn’t playing along, the others would bring them back on track. And now, thanks to their patience and leadership, the Butler County Growth Collaborative has enough small wins under its belt, that they are taking steps to establish a more permanent and formal structure through which to advance shared economic prosperity for Butler County!
January is an exciting month in many state capitals around the country. There are twenty new Governors being sworn in and starting to announce their teams. There are others who were re-elected and recognize that a second term provides a unique moment to be bold with their agendas. Soon, many will need to submit their first budget request and begin the shift from campaign rhetoric to actual programmatic and policy-driven agenda setting.
We have seen the good, the bad, and everything in between in how these leaders – well, LEAD. Some will seek to lead in a hands-on way, meeting with key constituents and helping to manage the daily agenda of the government. Others will choose to rely on the talented people they hire to carry out the vision.
Most are in agreement that the economy of their state – jobs for residents, happy employers, outsiders interested in moving in – are all important to their political futures. They recognize that a healthy economy makes the other tough issues they must deal with easier.
So how do they ensure economic success?
Think Beyond Transactions
It’s hard to argue against wanting the press release and the photo op with the big scissors or golden shovels. The announcement of an expansion, a new housing development for millennials, or a major infrastructure project, all attract interest and ‘show’ that things are getting done. I’ve seen too many economic development leaders focus on these wins and ignore what’s bubbling beneath the surface in their communities.
The announcement of these transactions must be accompanied by an understanding of the short and long term consequences. Often these broadcasted wins fall short of the excitement promised. Economic forces change the narrative and project scope as the growth ramps up; or worse, the face-value excitement is for a deal that will strain the community fabric. For example:
Community Win: Job creation!
Community Loss: All of the jobs pay below the community’s living wage.
Too many communities are losing with this rhetoric, and trust in leadership is lost as excitement deflates.
Announcing improvement in areas like place, investment, diversity, sustainability, and talent are the wins that leaders should aim for to create a lasting impact and to maintain trust and excitement about local development.
The Fourth Economy Community Index is a great resource for economic development officials to start looking into key indicators, like those listed above for each county in their state. The Community Index is a free resource that profiles almost every county by using 19 indicators that we think illustrate what is needed for success.
Quality of Place Drives Economic Development
For years now, I’ve been preaching that the best tool for economic development is a vibrant community that supports diverse lifestyles. There are a lot of people who get paid to tell you how bad your tax system is, why you should throw truckloads of incentives at companies and that your red tape is ‘crushing business’. Our research has shown that in a vibrant community those issues become footnotes and not the lead story. People want to be in communities that have culture, recreation, good education, and a welcoming environment. If you have those things people will stay or move to be there and the jobs will follow.
A few years back we researched the most transformed places in the country and found the quality of place to be the common thread. The message and results of that research are stronger than ever.
Power Comes From Collaboration
The history of governors and economic development leaders is filled with those who have tried the Command and Control approach, and those that pursue Collaboration.
The command and control leaders think that the path to success can be dictated. They fail to recognize that economic development is a team effort that can sometimes involve hundreds of organizations and leaders.
The Collaborative crowd recognize this and use their positions to rally, to leverage, to inspire those in their network to pursue a shared vision. The collaborative leaders will have a longer-lasting positive impact. They are the ones that collect awards and are well-regarded by their peers and communities they serve.
These are my three pieces of economic development advice to our newly-elected officials:
- Don’t get caught up in flashy announcements
- Pursue quality of place for all citizens
- Work collaboratively with organizations and local leaders.
Governors that uphold these standards will set themselves, and their state, apart from the rest. I hope that all leaders, not just governors, can use this advice to help chart a better course and support vibrant communities in their state.
The Fourth Economy team strongly believes in the power of partnerships in improving community and economic development outcomes. Through our work, we have managed numerous collaborations and identified four keys that lead to effective partnerships.
Patience, Participation, and Partnership
Effective collaboration can be difficult and often takes time. Therefore, it requires that all stakeholders have patience throughout the process of building partnerships and developing solutions. As partnership groups face challenging times, it is critical that they overcome these difficulties together and remain engaged in the effort. One difficulty that may arise is that as individuals and organizations collaborate to further a common purpose, they are typically guided by their own self-interest. These motivations are not always negative and can often support the success of collaborative groups when they are aligned with the goals of the larger partnership. In addition to acknowledging these self-interests, during initial conversations, these groups should identify outcomes and boundaries to focus their work. The group should allow for some flexibility in these areas as issues can change, but too much flexibility will impede the group’s ability to effect change and could cause stakeholders to leave the group. Continue reading “The Four Keys to Effective Collaborations”
It’s All About the Distance. Or is It?
Sure, power contributes to your ability to hit a home run, but it’s also the mechanics of how you swing that can take the ball farther. Many community and economic development initiatives throw a lot of money (power) at an issue without an understanding of the underlying issues and opportunities. A better approach is to use community input combined with real-time data to better understand the current local mechanics and what forms of investment (money and time) it will take to support change. Continue reading “5 Lessons From the MLB All-Star Game for Economic Opportunity Pursuits”
Guest Blog by Sarah Treuhaft, Director of Equitable Growth Initiatives, PolicyLink
It is another summer in which America’s deep racial fault lines are being painfully exposed. Following the horrific violence in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas, in a July 8 poll seven in ten Americans said race relations are “generally bad.” A National League of cities analysis of one hundred “state of the city” speeches from 2016 found that mayors increasingly view racism and inequities as major threats to progress in their cities.
Continue reading “Embedding Equity Into Economic Development”
As part of our work in our hometown of Pittsburgh, we have been digging into all of the plans that have been created over the past five years or so. So far, we’ve found around two-dozen plans, reports, or studies on all manner of community, workforce, and economic development topics. Of those, about five have well-articulated goals, actions, responsible parties, though the form and detail of those components varies from plan to plan. And even with detailed actions, the degree to which those plans are being implemented varies a great deal. Our experience in Pittsburgh is not unique – we see the same trend in the other places that we work. So why is it, that despite our best wishes and intentions, it is so hard to create actionable plans? Continue reading “The Challenge of Creating Actionable Plans”
City governments have experienced increasing financial strain over the past several decades – pension payments are coming due, infrastructure needs replacing, and the cost of providing social services is increasing. This leaves little room for local governments to get on the social finance innovation train that has been sweeping the private sector for the past few decades, where bright minds have been exploring social enterprise, low-profit limited liability companies, impact investment, and more. However, many have recognized the importance of bridging the gap between private sector innovation and government, leading to organizations across the sectors investing time and money devising ideas that may fill this void. Continue reading “How the Private Sector is Paying for Public Innovation”
To many Americans, Canada is our friendly neighbor to the north, known for an affable attitude, a passion for pucks and a penchant for strong beer. What is perhaps less known is how critical trade with Canada is to the economy of the United States. Consider:
- Nearly 9 million U.S. jobs depend on trade and investment with Canada
- Canada is the top export destination for 35 states
- Canada is the number one supplier of crude oil, refined petroleum products, natural gas,
and electricity to the U.S. as well as a
leading supplier of uranium
- 400,000 people cross the Canada–U.S. border daily
Tis the season for annual conferences – that chance each year for trade groups to tout their accomplishments and relevancy. The Fourth Economy team attended our fair share. What we find scary is that while the workshops and keynotes are conveying the seismic changes occurring in our economy, change on the street, in our communities and programs, appear to keep on keeping on as if it were, oh say, 1999. Many of the metrics for growth we heard remain focused on absolute land development, job creation (regardless of type and cost) and more office space. Continue reading “Inspire Yes, But Act As Well”
Fourth Economy Consulting has turned five and has topped over 200 client engagements in that short period. And by engagements, I mean that we have had the great fortune to partner with community leaders all over the country as they work to strengthen their organizations and communities. This experience has provided me with yes you guessed it, five notable trends that I wanted to share with you. Continue reading “Which Trend is Your Community Experiencing?”