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.
Understanding your local economy also means knowing how your community fits into the broader region. Although increased competition for jobs, tax base and private investment can put political pressure on elected officials to go toe-to-toe with neighboring jurisdictions, the reality is that local economic success depends on regional economic success.
This is particularly true in the context of the global economy, where economic competition may not be with your neighbor, but with a city in China, India or Ireland. Firms engaged in global economic activity rely on a breadth of resources available in a region, including workers, transportation, housing, and amenities. In nearly all cases, one community does not have full capacity needed to support these activities. Cities that focus on competition within the region, instead of collaborating for economic development, are placing their economic future at risk.
With a firmer grasp of your community's place in the region, you're better prepared to work with other jurisdictions to share responsibility for promoting regional economic success. Cities in the Denver region, for example, work together to draw businesses and other economic activity to the region while agreeing not to compete or offer incentives to firms to locate in their specific communities. Similarly, many cities work together on regional marketing efforts, typically via participation in a regional council. These collaborative efforts attract firms, investment, and employment that benefit the entire region.
Participating in regional activities may present some political difficulties if the local economic benefits are not well understood by your constituents. Local elected officials should be prepared with the facts about how regional economic success translates into improved employment opportunities, tax base, or amenities for your city and the people who live there. Local officials can work with their staff to craft a clear, accurate message about their involvement in regional activities, and communicate this message to community through the media, neighborhood meetings or other public venues. It can serve as a starting point for a community dialogue about the importance of regional collaboration to local success.