At the recent NEDC 2016 conference in Swan Valley, Jeff Finkle, President & CEO International Economic Development Council gave a talk on Tackling Challenges: Collaborations and Partnerships.
I have broken down his key points from his presentation as follows.
21st century challenges to economic development
Jeff Finkle summed up the range of the 21st century challenges to economic development:
- Shifting global role – trade backlash
- Rapid technological advances – very significant; blue collar job losses to Asia. Whereas a steel plant once employed 3,000 in the ‘60s, it now employs 80 or 90
- Evolutions in energy market – climate change and carbon emissions. Coal is closing so job losses
- Demographic changes – baby boomers leaving the workforce; losing managerial and technical skills
- Increase in disasters – volatility of climate and severity of disasters. Changes patterns of settlement
- Urbanisation – can we restore vibrancy to the regions ?
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Partnerships & collaboration are essential to sustaining local level competitiveness
In his address, Jeff made a strong case for working together to maintain economic health.
In particular, he noted that partnerships and collaboration are key to making sure that competitiveness remains sustainable at a local level.
Jeff argues that economic developers need to keep their eyes on the demographics ball because there is a lot of change underway, and much of it is dynamic, namely:
- Populations are increasing in urban areas, and immigration and generational shifts are impacting the workforce composition
- Economic developers need to be attentive to these demographic variations when considering new approaches for their communities
- EDAs work collaboratively across sectors to create opportunity
According to Jeff Finkle, it is crucial we argue strongly for infrastructure initiatives because they can be powerful tools in place-making, which in turn creates environments where economic development can take root.
- Infrastructure impacts local growth and competitiveness – economic developers can influence place-making strategies
- Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are increasingly used by local governments around the world
- Practitioners are working collaboratively with cities and across sectors to revitalize areas to improve the quality-of-place and attract investment
- Underutilized and blighted properties = disinvestment
Shifting global needs
In relation to shifting global needs, Jeff’s message to economic developers is to actively collaborate with universities, chambers and industry to be better placed to exploit opportunities arising from globalization.
- Globalization created unprecedented economic opportunities, expanding some markets, but also a riskier world economy
- Practitioners engage in partnerships locally and globally to balance global demands
- Economic developers can enhance attraction strategies by maintaining close collaborative links to universities, research labs or parks, foreign chambers of commerce, and local industry
With labour markets undergoing major shifts and changes, Jeff says economic developers have a crucial role to play in making their communities attractive to shrinking talent pools of labour.
- Today – as some sectors grow and others contract – attracting new talent entails setting the community apart from the competition
- Economic developers need to capitalize on local amenities as an extension of the workplace
- Cross-sector collaboration is effective for closing the skills gap and retaining a qualified workforce
Jeff argues that Entrepreneurship is one of the three elements of economic development and it accounts for 15 to 20 per cent of the effort. The other elements are recruitment (also worth 15 to 20 percent of the effort) and retention (where the lion’s share of effort is required). He expanded on the links amid these points:
- As more communities seek to grow from within, developing a vibrant entrepreneurial infrastructure is essential
- Practitioners can foster partnerships through technical assistance & training
- Cities can support and encourage an entrepreneurial ecosystem
- MaRS in Toronto is a leader of urban innovation districts in Canada – gathers all stakeholders under one roof & encourages partnerships for startups
Disaster resilience is an important role for economic developers, according to Jeff. He shared how recent disasters have spurred counterparts in North America into action.
- In the last decade, the world has seen an increase in natural & manmade disasters that have severely impacted communities
- Disasters have forced economic developers in North America to take an active role in resiliency efforts
- Efforts include assisting communities in pre-disaster preparedness & post-disaster economic recovery: closely working with stakeholders at the local/ state/ provincial and national levels, nonprofit groups, and the private sector
In summary, Jeff’s message is that 21st century economic development challenges can be tackled via successful collaboration. This entails establishing a common goal and bridging differences with deliberate measures. He also argued strongly for leadership to be based in a non-hierarchical environment.
Jeff Finkle with Naomi Braham, Membership/Administration Manager Economic Development Australia at the NEDC 2016