By Colleen and Jim Walton, Brand Acceleration, Inc.
As we trudge through another election year, it’s important that economic developers look ahead to prepare for how their local elections may impact their work. Anyone who has been in the economic development industry for any time knows that elections and board shifts can be disruptive. Sometimes these changes can bring about excitement, optimism, and a renewed sense of purpose. New players can be an economic developer’s biggest cheerleaders and supporters. Occasionally, though, a new person may bring a challenging attitude that can result in division, pain, and organizational paralysis.
Leadership changes, coupled with industry shifts, may prompt some economic development organizations to do a complete overhaul. We recently read an article that indicated that nearly half of economic development organizations are currently evaluating their organizational structure and rethinking their purpose. We’ve seen community organizations merge, separate, downsize, and even shut down because leaders have a different vision for the future.
This state of flux may provide you with an opportunity. If you imagine life post-election as a chance to start anew, what is the message you want as the foundation of your operation? What do you want your newly elected officials to know about you, your organization, and your plans for the future? Use this interim period to formulate a plan for how to communicate those things to the powers that be.
If they’re your supporters, strategize how to best bring them onboard with your existing agenda. Consider the ways in which you can align your goals to best serve your community. If they’re your detractors, identify their issues and see how you can address them. If they can’t be assuaged, perhaps you need to prepare for your graceful exit. And don’t forget about the middle group – the ignorant. We all know that economic development can be a challenging profession to explain, so it’s not unreasonable to think that our elected officials may not even understand what we do. Think carefully about how you’ll initiate them.
It’s easy to look at elections as times of upheaval. Not all change is for the better. But, if we look ahead and try to foresee the challenges we may face, we might just be able to minimize the impact.
A few months ago, we made the decision to add a package of services meant to help leaders and staff of communities come together and focus on what is good for area residents and businesses. Our Community Accelerator Programs are broad and include such services as leadership bootcamps, brand discovery research, rural community programs, organizational development, labor market analysis, retail attraction, and much more. The Community Accelerator Programs bring not only our extensive knowledge but that of our top industry allies. You can learn more about them here.