Marketing Fourth Economy Communities

The release of our latest Fourth Economy Community Index is a good opportunity to reflect on major shifts impacting economic development marketing strategies.  As we research our fourth economy communities, we see common success factors they employ to help attract and retain new investment.  Earlier this month I conducted an economic development marketing training session with economic developers from throughout the eastern U.S. and shared some key trends and lessons learned from both our project experience and through our Fourth Economy Index initiative. Here are some key take-a-ways.

What Sets You Apart?

Each year there are thousands of communities competing for fewer and fewer new investment opportunities.  No longer is it enough to be a “great place to raise a family” or have a great “quality of life.”  Communities must conduct critical and rigorous asset mapping to determine their true value proposition.  Then they must communicate that and be able to deliver on it.

Things Are Happening Fast.

Is your community ready for regular and massive market disruptions?  Major economic shifts historically occurred over decades, allowing communities to reposition their economies and absorb the changes over time.  In recent years, technology development and global market reach has closed these time windows down to well under a decade.   The next big thing will likely be followed by something better and revolutionary every 3 to 5 years (at the most).  We need to build economic strategies and programs that reflect and accommodate constant disruptions.

Recognize the Shift from Jobs to Wealth.

We submit that a jobs-based economic model has been dead for a while, but economic development marketing strategies, programs and performance metrics remain rooted in a jobs-focused mindset.  The fourth economy is a “wealth-based” model, built on knowledge, innovation and high value place-driven resources.  If this shift has not yet been recognized in your economic development marketing strategy, it is time to reboot.

Wins Are Smaller and Likely Home Grown.

While we know big manufacturing expansions and relocations are increasingly rare and the chances of winning one is akin to a $500 million Lotto drawing, economic developers are still willing to play.  Market strategies, budgets and staff time should be directed toward the smaller, high growth and homegrown investment opportunities.  While it may not be glamorous and take you to high profile conferences, this is where the sustained investment and wealth for a community is most likely realized.

Product vs. Economic Development Marketing – Know the Difference.

Too often we approach marketing our communities as if they were the latest sneaker, energy drink or iPad.  They are not.   Decisions to start a business or invest in a community are not impulse buys.  The stakes are high and long-term.  Much of that process happens well beyond the control of a community or economic development organization.  And since most of the economic development board members are likely more familiar and comfortable with product marketing, they need to be made aware of the differences.

Effective Market Strategies Will…

Our experience with the Fourth Economy Index and through community capacity engagements revel several economic development marketing success factors.  Successful strategies will tell the story of real programs that help clients:

  • Connect & Collaborate
  • Enhance The Corporate Brand
  • Attract and Retain Talent
  • Secure Capital
  • Provide Live-Work-Play Settings
  • Offer Quality Housing Diversity
  • Access Knowledge Centers

As such, economic developers must become engaged in activities beyond the sites, buildings and “great place” rhetoric.  They must work in non-traditional areas such as land use planning, technology commercialization, knowledge network building, zoning and design guidelines.

Of course maps on home pages, clear contact information and database of sites and buildings need to remain a fundamental online resource for potential investors and the consultant community.  But the heart of the modern marketing effort is in the ongoing delivery of services and programs applicable to what today’s client demands.

Here’s the complete presentation, if you’d like to learn more:


The Fourth Economy Team is available to deliver presentations on marketing tools and techniques and other topics relevant to attracting and retaining fourth economy investment. Contact us with a presentation idea or topic.



This entry was posted in Blog, Branding & Marketing, Communities, Deep Thoughts, Economic Development, Economic Development, Economic Impact Analysis, Growth, Innovation Based Economic Development, Introspective Economic Development, Investment, Investment, Leadership, Market Intelligence, Program Evaluation & Design, Real Estate Analysis, Reflections & Takeaways, Site Selection, Steve McKnight, Strategic Planning, Talent, Transformation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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