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Smaller Towns Teaming Up Through Regional Economic Development Partnerships

More second- and third-tier markets, both rural and suburban, are combining their economic development resources to better attract companies and investment.

Apr/May 09
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Marketing Specific Features
A coalition may choose to market itself to potential investors by focusing on a specific attribute of either its region or the partnership itself. The Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corporation (CSREDC) represents two counties with a combined population of about 600,000. The corporation has had success in marketing to California companies that are looking to relocate or expand. "Our climates are similar. Our target sectors - aerospace, bioscience, and renewable energy - are common industries in California. And doing business in Colorado Springs costs a lot less than doing business in California," says Michael J. Kazmierski, CSREDC's president and CEO.

The Industrial Development Authority (IDA) of Cuba, Missouri, markets the Cuba Enterprise Zone, an area in which qualified businesses can receive substantial tax credits and abatements from local, regional, and state government agencies. The IDA recently formed an alliance with the nearby towns of Steelville, Bourbon, and Leasburg when the state expanded the enterprise zone to include those areas. The four towns will now work together to market the region the newly expanded zone.

The Economic Development Coalition (EDC) of Southwest Indiana represents four Indiana counties with a combined population of approximately 350,000, with Evansville being the largest community (116,253 residents). In March 2009, the coalition activated a geographic information system (GIS)-based database on its website. The GIS component matches sites and buildings located within the EDC's target area with accompanying demographic and business data, giving site selectors the opportunity to research availability in a more detailed manner than before.

Technology is also playing a part for Roanoke Regional Development, where the partnership uses online search engine optimization (SEO) and social networking as key elements in its marketing plans. "We were one of the first economic development organizations in the United States to have a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, and a Wikipedia strategy," says Doughty. "Now we use Twitter as well."

Strength in Numbers
For smaller towns and counties, collaboration can be the key to successfully recruiting business and, in some cases, to securing government grants and other benefits. When Wisconsin's Thrive formed, one of its first accomplishments was helping secure a $5 million grant from the Wisconsin Department of Labor to develop a sustainable program for work force training. Thrive is also working with the five-county Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to develop and submit regional submissions appropriate for federal stimulus dollars. "By acting collaboratively, we believe that we can make a stronger case for funding levels that will help to create much-needed employment opportunities throughout our region," says Mark Masters, the commission chair. "This larger regional collaborative effort should hopefully help each individual county receive more immediate attention to their funding requests."

Colorado Springs' Kazmierski attributes much of his organization's success to the partnering process. "The ability to focus on the unique needs of each prospect, and then work to find them the best fit in the region, has resulted in a 70 percent success rate for prospects that have selected our area once they have visited us," he says. "Additionally, in these tough economic times, working together as a region maximizes the limited resources we have to give our region the most bang for its buck."

Working as a coalition had a very specific payoff for EDC of Southwest Indiana, which this past March announced a new $150 million project in Evansville that will create almost 400 new jobs. President and CEO Greg Wathen says two of the coalition's four counties were under serious consideration for the project. "We represented both communities in negotiations with the company," he says, "as well as worked with team members from each county to ensure impartiality, fairness, and confidentiality in those discussions."

In the end, says Wathen, the numbers tell the story: "There's nothing that puts a region or community on the radar screen of site selectors and company decision-makers more than economic activity."

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