High Performance Economic Development: A Best Practice for Success in Economic Development

Posted by Whitney Daly on Oct 27, 2014 12:31:49 PM

After working with more than 140 economic development organizations here at Atlas Advertising, we’ve learned that most economic developers join the profession to make a difference in their communities, but many struggle to maintain the operational focus that is required to affect change and create outcomes. 

Every community measures and defines success for economic development in its own way, and these measurements are essential in proving the effectiveness of projects and initiatives, and of an organization as a whole. As former economic developers and current marketing strategists, we sought a way to augment the efforts of EDOs and make economic developers’ lives easier and more efficient in attaining metrics that gauge community success.

To assist with this, Atlas developed the industry’s first High Performance Economic Development toolset. Leveraging some groundbreaking work done by the International Economic Development Council, and established balanced scorecard methodology, Atlas developed an easy to use balanced scorecard for economic development. 


As detailed in our new white paper, this tool is one that guides individual organizations in looking at their own marketing initiatives, as well as business attraction, business retention, and business creation efforts with a strong focus on measureable outcomes. One telling fact we discovered while developing and deploying the tool and gathering results is that whether your EDO is small or large, rural or urban, relationship focused or promotion driven, High Performance Economic Development methods can assist in understanding how community size, budget, staff size, and regional community location impact an EDO’s overall success in economic development.

While we understand that measuring community initiatives is a practice relevant and useful to all EDOs across the spectrum, we also came to understand there are breakout performers in economic development. And why not share what they’re doing, so EDOs far and wide can adopt best practices and enhance the performance of their communities too?

Strategy #1, as set forth by Southwest Michigan First: focus on the development of staff, the provision of training and thought leadership to business leaders in your market area, and on education

Strategy #2, as set forth by Columbus 2020: focus on the outward promotion of your region through active marketing, business attraction, and partner relationships

Strategy #3, as set forth by Metro Orlando EDC: focus on relationships with local partners, with the business leaders in the community you serve, and use your business development team to work directly with companies that are considering locating in your area 

Strategy #4, as set forth by Southern Vermont: focus on setting a course to change negative perceptions about your area or region (for Southern Vermont, it was to change a decline in population of young people due to a major flood and the closure of a nuclear facility) 

Strategy #5, as set forth by Loudoun County, Virginia: focus on creating a sustainable, well-staffed, consistent organization that meets a variety of objectives; focus on marketing, business development, retention, and building a reputation that is recognizable at the local and regional level

This all may seem well and good, but you might be asking yourself, “what’s the point?” What’s the real reason EDOs should be focused on benchmarking and outcomes and the performance of their communities? 

  1. Outcomes-based plans are almost always required for fundraising.  Communities that are raising funds for economic development almost always have to set out an outcomes-based plan of work to get checks in the door. 
  2. Communities exist in comparison (competition) with other communities. As the world globalizes, business location decisions become more and more about comparing locations – inside and outside communities – to other locations. As the Internet has made information flow more available, companies can evaluate hundreds of locations in a single morning, which makes EDO understanding of how their community compares that much more vital in a competitive landscape. We exist in competition more than ever before, and those that drive forward the most, will win more. 

It’s crucial that EDOs narrow in on the driving forces that will make their community a successful and competitive one. We encourage you to read our full report on the importance and emerging trend of High Performance Economic Development in our white paper, “Putting High Performance Economic Development into Practice: A Guide for Economic Development Leaders and Their Boards.” In the white paper, you’ll also find a lot of great information about the highest performing EDOs this year.

Topics: Economic Development, Economic Development Marketing, IEDC, High Performance Economic Development

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