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.
A group of diverse stakeholders within and outside local government contribute to economic development. These include both large and small businesses, nonprofit organizations, workforce and training organizations, universities, department staff, and many others. Economic development partnerships will likely change depending on the activity, so it is important to think strategically on a project-by-project basis about who needs to be involved and the resources they bring to the table.
Collaborative partnerships are especially important given the increased complexity and diversity of interests in economic development. Harnessing the breadth of resources, knowledge, leadership, and skills of stakeholders that may not typically interact is essential for effective implementation of your city's economic development strategies. By facilitating broader and deeper interaction among local government, business, the community, and economic development activities, local elected officials can ensure that policy decisions will be in tune with all of the other work that is happening in the community to advance the city's economic development goals.
Your local government may not always be the lead organization for an economic development project. Sometimes, the chamber of commerce might lead the way. In other instances, it might be a different community organization or business leader. But even if the city is just one stakeholder among many, local elected officials can make themselves available to help bring the right people and organizations to the table. Important roles for municipal leaders include reaching out to the various parties, working to break down communication barriers, helping to facilitate consensus, and ultimately, coordinating and leveraging action.
Garland, Texas (population 238,651)
A critical objective of the Garland Economic Development Partnership (GEDP), a collaboration of government, school and business leaders, is the retention of key businesses in the local community. A suburb of Dallas, Garland has been characterized as a major manufacturing city since the 1950s and is home to numerous Fortune 500 corporations, such as Kraft Foods, General Dynamics and Raytheon.
In 2006, the city recognized the "Garland Top 100" businesses based on their tax value, number of employees and electric usage. The city estimates that the "Garland Top 100" represent 13 percent of the local tax base and employ 17 percent of the total workforce. City of Garland Mayor Ronald Jones and GEDP staff has visited nearly all of the top 100 manufacturing companies in Garland to hear their concerns and challenges directly.
According to Jones, these visits were intended to make sure that elected officials understand and recognize business needs, and that the businesses understand that the city appreciates they are part of our community. During the meetings, the mayor and GEDP staff discussed a variety of key issues, including workforce training needs, utility costs, and public safety. As a result, the city developed the Dallas County Manufacturers' Association in collaboration with Richland College to provide specialized workforce training.