The Role of Local Elected Officials in Economic Development: 10 Things You Should Know is part of the Center for Research and Innovation’s ongoing work to provide city leaders with the skills to become informed, strategic decision-makers in economic development. The “ten things” were derived from analysis of successful city programs and interviews with economic development professionals, elected leaders, academics and business organizations.
Local businesses are essential to a stable and diverse local economy. In recent years, many cities have shifted their primary economic development focus away from attracting large firms from outside the community to growing new businesses from within and helping existing businesses survive and thrive. Local officials can help create an environment that supports the growth and expansion of local businesses.
In the case of entrepreneurs and small businesses, many fail not for lack of ideas, but on planning and management. By allocating resources for entrepreneurial and new business support services, local governments can help these businesses overcome critical barriers to success. Such services include small business development centers, entrepreneurship training, market information, networking opportunities, marketing assistance, business incubators, and even financing opportunities.
Running a business is a full-time job, and even if local services are available, business leaders may be unaware of the assistance available to them. Even more likely, they may not automatically view the city as a resource or an ally. By making the effort to reach out and communicate with your local business community, whether through your local chamber of commerce, organized events, or visiting businesses individually, local officials can gather input to help improve local business policies and demonstrate that the community cares about the success of their business.
It is important for local elected officials to bring the same commitment and enthusiasm to existing business as they do to new business prospects. The city often creates incentives or other policy packages to attract new employers, and celebrates a new, large company with ribbon cuttings and stories in the local media. By similarly celebrating local business accomplishments, you can show the city's support, increase the business's profile, and draw attention to economic development success stories that often go unnoticed.
Additionally, by publicly highlighting the achievements of your local companies, you will build your city's reputation as a business friendly community. This, in turn, may encourage outside businesses to take a second look at your community as a desirable location, while providing existing businesses with even more reasons to stay in your jurisdiction.
When making policy decisions focused on business retention and expansion, including small business and entrepreneurial development, it is important to remember that many local businesses need time to mature and grow. Although this form of business support may not deliver an overwhelming, immediate economic impact, the benefits of staying the course with your local businesses can provide greater long-term pay-offs. These include a more diversified, stable economy, a business community with stronger local ties, and maybe even the next, great fortune 500 company.
New York, New York (population 8,308,163)
New York City provides an example of a successful, city-led effort to directly link workforce development and economic development. In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg eliminated the NYC Department of Employment and consolidated the City's adult workforce programs with the Department of Small Business Services (SBS). The resulting program provides employment and training services for individuals and seeks to meet specific workforce needs of local businesses.
Much of the program's success has been due to a dual customer approach - focusing on meeting the needs of job seekers, as well as local businesses. In fact, SBS has developed two distinct brands associated with both customers. Workforce 1 provides individuals with job placement, training and advancement services and NYC Business Solutions provides a suite of services to support local businesses, including employee recruitment services from the pool of screened job candidates from the Workforce 1 program.
The effort has shown real results in New York City. In 2003, prior to the consolidation of the two programs, the workforce system only achieved 500 job placements. In 2009 the workforce system achieved 25,000 placements.