In August The Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council hosted several key stakeholders for an informational presentation on the evolving industry of economic development and how to best position Lee’s Summit for the future. The LSEDC Board, Lee’s Summit City Council, Lee’s Summit Planning Commission and Lee’s Summit Development Center attended ED 101, a course funded and developed in partnership with KCP&L. The presenter, Janet Ady, is a site selector and place marketing consultant who has worked with more than 400 economic development organizations.
Ady explained that while there is no single definition of economic development, the industry is evolving to cover more topics than ever before. The traditional elements include what Ady calls the “three legs of the stool”: business retention/expansion, recruitment and start-up. While none of those elements have lost importance, Ady said that now economic development also must expand its scope to also focus on equity, economic mobility and quality of place.
“Economic development is ensuring that your kids or your grandkids, depending on how old you are, have an opportunity to live and work where you are. They may not choose to, but there is an opportunity for them to do that,” said Ady.
According to Ady, one of the most significant preparations a city can make to ensure that it is competitive for business is for the stakeholders of development to agree on priority objectives and how best to achieve them.
“There’s more aspirations here than can be realistically achieved so you have to focus in on what those most important elements of economic development are,” said Ady.
The Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council is currently working concurrently with the city on a new strategic plan which will align with the city’s objectives. Ady said that type of alignment is what will make Lee’s Summit stand out from the crowd.
Ady also advised paying close attention to which businesses have already made Lee’s Summit home. While many economic development organizations spend effort in attracting new business, Ady said the majority of communities she works with get 80-90 percent of their new jobs and investment from business expansions.
“If you’re doing good in a place and you find the workforce good and the policies good and the environment good, doesn’t it make sense? You’re gonna grow there and expand there,” said Ady. “Your business retention and expansion program is your best defense against someone else’s recruitment program.”
Ady advised expanding incentive policies to include existing businesses. But she warns incentives alone are not sufficient in retaining or attracting new businesses. Maintaining relationships, site-readiness and ease of doing business are also driving factors that may mean more to some businesses than cost.
“A lot of companies, they only do one expansion or relocation in a generation and if they pick the wrong place, they could go out of business. It’s that high-risk for the company,” said Ady.
The risk factor is what has caused the definition of economic development to expand. Now, economic development organizations must also focus on business development, talent development and placemaking. Assistant City Manager Mark Dunning said the added requirements make it important for communities to see economic development as a team effort.
“With the expanded three-pronged approach to economic development, there are roles that many stakeholders other than economic development professionals play in expanding and retaining businesses within a community,” said Dunning. “The greater the alignment of the vision and values of the community across the stakeholder groups, the better chance of success in the economic development environment.”
LSEDC President & CEO Rick McDowell agreed.
“We are fortunate to have a community that is committed to creating a united front in attracting and retaining businesses,” McDowell said. “By being organized and united, Lee’s Summit has an automatic advantage over its competitors.”
Despite the varying nuances in attracting and retaining businesses, Ady said most importantly, communities should keep in mind that it is a long game.
“We’re not talking about the next quarter or the next year or ‘how many projects do you have today?’” said Ady. “We’re talking about, how is the work that you’re doing today going to fundamentally transform this community so that it can be successful and viable for the next generation.”