Economic development organizations across America are facing similar challenges

February 23, 2022

Earlier this month, I was in California for the International Economic Development Council (IEDC)’s annual Leadership Summit. Also in attendance were our regional economic development partners from Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties. It was a great chance for us to reconnect and catch up with our peers across the country – something we hadn’t done for a while. Conversation centered on the pandemic, of course, and how it has affected our focus and altered our workplaces and communities.

Pictured rom left to right: Sean Malott, Central Florida Development Corp.; Dr. Cynthia Johnson, Pinellas County Economic Development; Bill Cronin, Pasco EDC; Andrea Falvey, Pinellas County Economic Development; Michelle Bauer, TBEDC and Craig Richard, TBEDC

In his state of the industry presentation, IEDC’s retiring CEO, Jeff Finkle, shared the results of a national survey that took the pulse of economic development practitioners on key challenges they are facing. Unsurprisingly, the issue hampering most communities (73% of respondents) is a lack of skilled talent. Nearly 40% reported struggling with inadequate infrastructure, while another 25% of respondents cited a lack of political support for economic development as a drag on their competitiveness. Another highly important trend in our industry is greater focus on equity and economic opportunity. Fully 80% of the organizations reporting said that addressing these concerns is a top priority.

As I noted in last month’s column, the Tampa Bay EDC is doubling down on its talent recruitment and development efforts. But we are also trying to wrap our arms around other shifts that are occurring in our region and what that means for economic development. Our region is transforming into a top tier market, and the changes we’re undergoing have both positive and negative effects.

We have two important research initiatives underway right now that will help guide us as we begin to lay the foundation for our next strategic plan. Our Expand Tampa Bay local business survey is getting excellent participation. Our Competitiveness Assessment is nearly complete. We commissioned this study to gain a more granular understanding of how site selectors regard Tampa Bay for projects in specific target industries against our top competing markets. Armed with this information, we’ll be able to create a blueprint for sustainable and resilient growth.

I’d be remiss, though, if I failed to mention how much other communities across the country envy us. At the IEDC Leadership Summit, our Florida team kept hearing “stop stealing our companies!” from our California peers. Florida – and Tampa Bay in particular – has the business climate, quality of life, and buzz that companies – and the people who run them – want right now. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to shine, and we are working hard to make sure that we keep that positive attention focused on our community as long as we can.