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State and Local Economic Development Centering on Regional Approaches

June 08, 2011

Much of the recent economic recovery plans coming from governors across the country have focused on growing and nurturing existing businesses through a regional approach to economic development. The idea is that by identifying and defining the unique needs of a region, policymakers and practitioners can then provide the necessary tools and resources to grow industries likely to succeed within a given region, thus improving the overall economic landscape of the state. This approach is happening both in states and at the local level.

New Governors Look to Regional Economic Development to Boost Job Creation
Many of the nation's new 28 governors elected last November came into office with bold proposals to create jobs in the sluggish economy by developing regional plans. New York's recently enacted budget provides $130 million in funding and $70 million in tax credits to establish 10 regional economic development councils expected to debut this month. The councils will compete for the funds and prioritize economic development projects in their respective regions. Meanwhile, the re-vamped Michigan Economic Development Corporation plans to distribute a portion of its funds directly to the state's SmartZone network — 15 regional economic development organizations that focus on helping entrepreneurs.

Further south, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's new Jobs4TN plan centers on developing strategic plans for nine regions in the state, each with an innovation component, and in neighboring Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced this week a regional economic development competition to promote collaboration in economically distressed areas. In 2012, Virginia will provide at least $200,000 to support up to three efforts by regional public-private partnerships intended to stimulate job creation, economic development and community development. Activities funded include development of a regional strategic plan, benchmarking analysis, asset mapping and implementation of a regional marketing plan. Partnerships must commit matching funds of up to 50 percent.

This week, legislators in Nevada passed a bill supported by Gov. Brian Sandoval authorizing the Office of Economic Development to enter into contracts with regional development authorities, and the budget passed by lawmakers appropriates $10 million in general funds to a newly established Catalyst Fund, which will provide grants and loans for the authorities.

Similar plans are still in the development phase in Colorado and Ohio. Earlier this year, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order directing the state's 64 counties to identify priority areas for growth. Those ideas were grouped into 14 plans and eventually will culminate in a statewide plan. The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade recently posted the 14 regional statements on the governor's Bottom-up Economic Development website.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich's administration presented a plan to the state's Third Frontier Commission for JobsOhio to contract with regional economic development agencies to act as deal-makers, reports Crain's Cleveland Business. The regional groups would put together incentive packages for companies looking to expand or bring operations to Ohio and would collaborate with JobsOhio to arrange financing, the article states.

Organizations Partnering to Grow Regional Economies at the Local Level
Efforts to capitalize on high-growth sectors using a regional approach are underway in several Midwest and East Coast communities, including Cincinnati, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Highlights of recent plans and studies are included below.

Cincinnati
With new funding from the Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) to support Southwest Ohio businesses, the Cincinnati USA Partnership is enhancing a long-established regional economic development initiative to reach out to more companies and gain in-depth information about the needs of each region.

Representing a 10 percent increase in outreach over last year, the Cincinnati USA Partnership aims to meet with 450 businesses in a three state, 15-county region under the newly-named GrowthForce initiative. To increase its impact by reaching more local companies, the group also will expand the committee of volunteers and economic development professionals who conduct outreach to businesses by 25 percent. GrowthForce provides businesses with information to identify sources of capital, assistance in recruiting and training a talented workforce, and makes companies aware of tax incentives and marketing opportunities. The expansion largely is funded by a $250,000 grant from ODOD. Read the news release.

Detroit
The Greater Detroit region is poised for significant growth in technology-related industries, finishing in the top five for share of total employment in a technology industry sector, number people working in architectural and engineering occupations, and absolute number of jobs within technology industry sectors, when benchmarked against 15 regions across the U.S. Automation Alley's 2011 Technology Industry Report, Growing the Detroit Region's Technology Economy: A Regional Comparison Study as We Emerge from the Recession, finds that Southeast Michigan, which is home to 1.5 percent of the country's total population, holds 9.3 percent of the country's advanced automotive workforce and 3 percent of the country's engineering and architectural workforce. Additionally, the Metro Detroit region is third among the Midwest markets in terms of share of total employment in the life sciences. Automation Alley will use findings from the report in strategic planning for the Metro Detroit region.

Pittsburgh
An economic development initiative geared toward helping 150 high-growth companies in 10 counties is underway in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Impact Initiative is a partnership of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, the Department of Community and Economic Development and Team Pennsylvania Foundation. Firms selected for inclusion in the program share similar qualities although they may not be in the same industry sector, reports the Pittsburgh Business Times. Those qualities include being older than three years with steady job growth between 2007 and 2009 and not having lost jobs within the past five years. Such companies are seen as "recession proof" and good examples of the types of jobs that may be best for the Pittsburgh regional economy, according to the article. Companies will receive assistance with market research, connecting with local agencies, and wading through permitting requirements.

Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennesseeworkforce, strategic plan, regionalism