The 3 Ls of Collaborative Economic Development

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!).

1. 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.

2. Leadership

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.  

3. Leadership

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!