In 2004 what is now Black Hills Energy and Kansas City Power and Light asked Smart Solutions Group to complete a study that would assist other communities in what works well for successful communities. This report details the findings of a benchmark analysis of ten small to mid-sized economic development organizations in Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas. The analysis provides insights and trends on the following issues:
__Organizational structures, board leadership, staffing, budget and funding sources.
__Fundraising strategies and innovative tactics.
__Community economic development leadership development/training.
__Functions of the organizations including programs and services, e.g. business attraction/recruitment, business retention, workforce development, entrepreneurial development, etc.
__Interaction and coordination with other economic development groups (utilities/county/state) and groups that influence economic development success (stakeholders/investors).
__Effective and innovative business attraction/recruitment marketing strategies/tactics, effective business retention practices and other effective wealth/growth generating strategies/tactics.
__Competitive product/ enhancements, e.g. business location/expansion incentive tools, industrial/business park development, speculative buildings, etc.
__Measurements of progress and success and notable achievements.
Telephone surveys were conducted in April of 2004 with the highest level decision-maker in the organization, e.g. executive director. The survey participants were informed Smart Solutions Group (SSG) was conducting a survey of small to mid-size community economic development organizations to learn more about the needs of these organizations in order to better serve this segment of the market and that Aquila recommended the group as one of the ?leading economic development organizations.? Participants were also informed the information would be utilized in aggregate form and SSG will not release specific information about their respective organizations. Supplemental information/data was gathered from the respondents? Web site and through secondary data sources, e.g. online local newspapers, site location publications, etc.
Aquila Benchmark: Of the groups considered, five are county-wide organizations; one is a two-county regional organization and four are community organizations. The population of the area served by these organizations ranges from a high of 33,462 for the two-county regional organization to a low of 2,510.In considering the major communities served by these organizations, the population ranges from a high of 13,243 to a low of 2,150.
Out of this study came BEST PRACTICES:
While each of these small to mid-sized communities is unique from each other, they tend to exhibit the following attributes related to the success of their economic development efforts. It can be said that they exhibit the BEST PRACTICES.
While they have a variety of strengths and challenges, most believe that they must focus their efforts, work to enhance their product (community) and continue to include others in the business development process.
These organizations have been around for a long time, but they have experienced a series of changes in their mission and emphasis which has led to a more focused, effective program.
Most of these organizations place a high priority on having up-to-date information available for decision making. This information aids in setting short and long term direction, target identification and proactive planning.
They tend to feel that a more formal leadership/board orientation would be helpful for their future.
These organizations understand and embrace the value of partnering with others for the common good. They all deal with many regional partners, most serving areas beyond the local community. They benefit from information, ideas, financial and technical support, marketing, financial and technical assistance and prospect leads/referrals. These organizations know that they could not be successful without their allies and partners.
However, most recognize the importance of having a broad community cross-section involved to some degree in economic development activities and leadership.
These organizations tend to have a realistic view of their assets, weaknesses and opportunities and thus set realistic targets for prospecting. While they do not spend significant amount of money on ?marketing,? they tend to be very focused in how they spend that money. They understand the importance of the Internet as a development tool and the importance of encouraging others (community, partners, state, etc.) to help them define prospects.
These organizations keep their stakeholders and influencers informed which strengthens their relationship. Open and clear communications are a priority.
These organizations demonstrate the importance of connecting to prospects through research, market intelligence and personal connection for their targeted marketing efforts. They tend to be more specific in the targets they pursue versus the broad overview categories. They use their existing business base as a starting point for business development.
Most realize the importance of actively involving the business community in economic development pursuit.
These organizations understand and embrace the importance of focusing their efforts. The primary core competencies of these groups are:
From a budget perspective, they are funded by a mix of public and private dollars. Organizations understand the importance of re-investing in their communities. They demonstrate a variety of approaches to raising funds, each reflecting the unique personality of their community and leadership.
As far as leads go, these organizations prefer quality over quantity. Many enjoy a high percentage of win versus lead due to their ability to ensure that a prospect has a high likelihood of fitting their community.