Having served in dual roles of being a Chamber President/CEO and Economic Development Professional spanning over a twenty-six year career, I am often surprised when some of my chamber colleagues view ‘economic development’ as a separate function of their organization.
If your chamber promotes housing opportunities, education/workforce development, tourism, programs for small businesses, public policy advocacy, in my opinion, your organization is in economic development! Successful economic development marketing (AKA: the location/retention of businesses) cannot occur without a sound quality of life, solid education system (K-12 and life), solid workforce development opportunities and leadership development.
What do you think of when the word “economic development” is mentioned? You may respond: Manufacturing, tourism, small business/entrepreneurial development, office/white-collar or agribusiness or all of the above! You are correct, for there is no right or wrong answer. The answer is as diverse as the communities we serve. If you accept the definition of economic development as job creation/retention and generating “new” wealth for a community, think of the many ways chambers do just that. While the role of economic development or community marketing may fall under the auspices of a separate organization in a community, in essence, chambers are indeed in the business of economic development.
Some of my economic development colleagues, leading organizations separate from their local chamber or business association, often times do not acknowledge the role chambers play in forming the “product” they are selling. Granted, all chambers are different, meaning some have more relevance than others. But for the most part, chambers play a significant role in the process.
On the other hand, chamber executives should be sensitive to their economic development organization counterparts and their challenge to compete in the most fiercely competitive global recruitment environment that has ever existed. Twenty years ago, companies took longer to make site location decisions and spent more time assessing a community’s quality of life factors before making a major site location decision. Today, prospective businesses are concerned with three issues and three issues only: Speed, cost and lowering risk. How quickly can we get them into their building and making profits (IE: Providing Certified Green-field sites), how communities can reduce their company’s up-front costs (IE: Incentives) and lowering risks (IE: are they going to be able to find and maintain a skilled workforce). This is from the prospect’s point of view. On the local community side, we are faced with politics every day of our lives and the fact that regardless of what we help our communities succeed in, there will be some other local group we will have alienated in the process.
Chambers and economic development organizations must coexist and acknowledge the critical role each organization plays in the economy of their community and/or region.