Economic Development Column: You have to think regionally

We normally speak of economic development at the local or county level. It may not be evident, but a lot of energy goes into regional collaboration as well. Although I wrote an earlier column on partnerships with some mention of regional efforts, I had then focused primarily on the idea of working across organizational boundaries—i.e. with municipal partners, educational institutions, workforce development agencies, etc. This time, I would like to focus on working across boundary lines on a map, explain why that can make sense, and provide you with a few examples.

In promoting their collective assets together, regional partners can improve their appeal to potential new businesses. That was the concept behind Drum Country, a partnership between the economic development agencies for Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties, along with National Grid and Advocate Drum. The three counties share a connection to Fort Drum and have worked together for years to promote “Drum Country, NY” (www.drumcountryny.com). Together, the three counties stand out more prominently, creating a larger funnel that might gain the attention of a new prospect more easily. Once drawn to the larger region, the prospect will travel down the funnel, narrowing its focus on specific locations within the region. In addition to their business attraction efforts, the Drum Country, NY partners are now undertaking a marketing and social media campaign that includes a talent attraction component to help attract the skilled workforce needed by local employers across all sectors of the economy.

Workforce development is another area where the county economic development agencies and others work together across county lines. A business does not limit its hiring to employees in a particular county. Nor do people limit their job searches to positions available only within their home county. Counties such as Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence share a common labor shed. Every day, people cross county boundaries in each direction on their way to work in the neighboring county. That is another reason collaborative business attraction efforts such as Drum Country NY can benefit the participants, even if their own county is not the one to win the prospect. Job creation in one county will almost certainly create employment opportunity for residents of the neighboring counties.

The annual Manufacturing Day event is an example of economic developers working together across county lines with schools and workforce development agencies to recruit and grow tomorrow’s workforce. Manufacturing Day typically involves approximately 30 school groups visiting 20 different manufacturers across the tri-county region. The intent of the tours is to expose youth to the variety of good-paying jobs available in the manufacturing industry and encourage them to pursue a skilled trade or professional career in that field. Working across county lines increases the available tours sites for all and provides greater flexibility in accommodating all of the tour groups.

This past winter, the economic development agencies for Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida and Oswego counties partnered together with the NYS Tug Hill Commission to conduct an economic impact analysis of snowmobiling in the Tug Hill region. It made sense to take a regional perspective. Snowmobilers cover a lot of miles in an outing. The economic benefit to each individual county is due to its connection to a vast trail network extending across all four counties. Any benefit to the system as a whole is going to benefit each of the individual counties. That report is available at www.tughill.org.

Advocacy is another area where working with counterparts across county lines makes sense. A key example is the North Country Alliance (www.northcountryalliance.org). The NCA Board of Directors includes economic developers and private sector representatives from each of the seven north country region counties from Watertown to Plattsburgh. By their rural nature, those seven counties share many of the same economic development challenges. Collectively, they carry more weight when representing the region as a whole than they would individually when drawing attention to the impact of state and federal policies on our communities. The NCA also administers a revolving loan fund to area businesses when sponsored by a member economic development agency—another means by which economic developers support projects in the neighboring counties.

Economic developers do have a responsibility to foster business investment and job creation in their own community. However, pooling resources and working with your neighboring “competitors” can improve your own chances for success.

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