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Do you want to drive local prosperity and economic growth? Of course, you do! Here’s why your chamber needs to take a more active role in economic development.

A healthy business community comes out of a healthy economy. The two are intertwined. You need successful businesses for a healthy economy, and you need a healthy economy to attract more businesses to your community. That’s why many chamber pros understand that they need to play a role in economic development.

But how do you do it? Do you need a background in economics? Is there a certification?

We’ll answer all these questions and more in this article.

Why Is Economic Development Important to Chamber Professionals?

We’ve already touched on the most obvious answer that it is connected to your ability to create a strong business community. But why else should you care?

Economic development provides the necessary resources, opportunities, and infrastructure for businesses to thrive, which in turn generates employment opportunities, fosters innovation, and generates tax revenues that support public services and projects. As mentioned earlier, a robust and sustainable economy is essential for attracting and retaining businesses, creating a higher standard of living for community residents, attracting tourists and future residents, and enhancing the overall quality of life in the community.

What Is Economic Development?

Economic development efforts, such as attracting new investment, supporting entrepreneurship, and promoting workforce development, are components of what you’re already doing. These activities work to stimulate economic growth and create a vibrant business ecosystem attracting new growth in the future as well.

While economic development needs may vary based on your community, state, and/or geographic area, there are areas that most economic development professionals focus on. Likely, several of these are already components of your strategic plan. If not, you may want to consider how they fit or work with your chamber’s future planning.

Business Attraction and Retention

This is the chamber’s bread and butter and one you’re already hard at work on, at least from a retention perspective. Indirectly, by making your community a better place for business, you are also working on the attraction component.

In the simplest of terms, and one most people think of when it comes to economic development, economic development focuses on attracting new businesses to the community and retaining existing ones. Attraction methods include incentives, tax breaks, tours, public relations, and other ways of getting the word put about your community. Enticing businesses often comes down to two things—money and brand (of your community).

While the chamber may not be able to offer favorable tax incentives, it may be possible to work with local and state leaders as well as economic development councils to connect those looking for incentives and those in a position to offer them. But tax incentives aren’t the only things businesses are considering. They may also need (or desire) infrastructure support or special considerations. For instance, a tech manufacturing company may need a large area of open space developed for its specific needs to test its products. Your many relationships can help you navigate this challenge with them. Additionally, the chamber’s past and current advocacy efforts may have helped to contribute to creating a favorable business environment through your work on helping to shape pro-business policies and regulations.

Workforce Development

A skilled and educated workforce is crucial for economic development. This includes initiatives such as job training programs, education partnerships, and workforce planning to ensure that the local workforce is equipped with the skills needed to meet the demands of the business community. Your chamber may already be involved in these types of programs. Some have created a workforce development task force with members of the chamber, local educational system/school board/university, and top employers. Since education initiatives take years to implement, it helps to plan before there’s a critical need.

Advocacy also plays a part here when you are working on developing programs that will ensure skilled employees. Creating these targeted educational programs, not only helps the businesses who are looking for employees with those skills but also helps attract people to your community as they come to your schools with the idea of getting the specific training they need to be competitive in the job market with your employers of choice.

Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Supporting entrepreneurship and innovation can drive economic growth by fostering new business creation, encouraging innovation, and nurturing a culture of entrepreneurship. This may involve providing resources (which could be financial, educational, time-based, or address physical space needs like office space or others), mentorship, and access to capital for startups and entrepreneurs. Some chambers have created innovation hubs or business incubators to encourage entrepreneurship and business discovery.

Infrastructure and Transportation

Adequate infrastructure, including transportation systems, utilities, and technology/telecommunications, is essential for economic development. Investment in infrastructure can attract new businesses, support existing ones, and facilitate the movement of goods and services, thus boosting economic activity.

While the infrastructure needs of businesses vary by industry, it’s safe to assume they all want reliable internet with high internet speeds, strong cell signals, and roads to take things to market or send products to buyers. It also helps to have an airport nearby so that traveling to and from the business is not akin to taking a wagon train west in the mid-1800s.

Community Development:

Building a strong and vibrant community is critical for economic development. This may involve initiatives such as placemaking, improving the quality of life for residents, supporting cultural and recreational amenities, and fostering a sense of community pride. Oh, and filming a major motion picture (or Hallmark Channel Christmas movie) in your town doesn’t hurt either.

Public-private Partnerships

This one is really a sub-section of all the others, but your chamber relationships and partnerships with the city and other public sector leaders can help your economic development efforts exponentially. Public-private partnerships leverage resources, expertise, and funding to implement initiatives that drive economic growth and benefit the community.

Regional Planning and Coordination

Strategic regional planning and coordination among various stakeholders, including government entities, businesses, and community organizations, can help align economic development efforts, avoid conflicts, and maximize opportunities and resources. Your city (or town) is part of a larger area that could be assisted by county, regional, and/or state efforts.

Sustainability and Inclusivity:

Economic development that is sustainable and inclusive considers the social, environmental, and equity aspects of growth. It aims to create long-term, equitable, and environmentally responsible economic outcomes that benefit all members of the community, including marginalized and underserved populations. Focuses on these two areas are becoming motivators for many people and businesses looking to improve their social responsibility and brand reputation.

How Can You Start Creating Economic Development Strategies?

The good news about entering into economic development is that many of the things that make for successful economic development programs are already strategies employed by many chambers to drive local prosperity. Things like advocating for and working with groups that can help with:

Building a supportive business environment. The Kansas City Chamber publishes on its website what it’s doing to create a supportive and positive business climate in its city and state.

Promoting entrepreneurship and innovation. In late 2022, the Jax Chamber in conjunction with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority opened its 3,900-square-foot business accelerator space on the second floor of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center. The space is the Chamber’s hub for innovation and technology training for entrepreneurs and employees from Jacksonville businesses and industries.

Fostering workforce development and talent retention. For example, the Vail Valley Partnership found that a major difficulty in retaining top executives was their spouse’s ability to find work. They created the Trailing Spouses Program that helped spouses find employment in their fields. The chamber was able to top employers retain valuable executive talent through the program. The La Plata Economic Development Alliance offers a similar program.

Enhancing infrastructure and connectivity. Infrastructure and connectivity play a large role in site selection. That’s why many chambers involved in economic development have an infrastructure committee or issue infrastructure surveys to better understand the needs of their community and those interested in becoming a part of it.

Cultivating strategic partnerships. Connecting the public and private sectors can help you accomplish your economic development goals.

Best Practices for Implementing Economic Development Strategies

Economic development is a long payoff. There are things you will implement today that won’t see a return for a decade or longer. Here are a few ways you can start laying the groundwork for important economic development goals:

Identify key stakeholders and build/continue partnerships

Conduct thorough research and analysis to inform future strategies and schedules

Set clear goals with measurable objectives

Create an action plan that ties into your chamber’s strategic plan and allocate resources effectively

Engage the business community and residents in economic development efforts

Monitor and evaluate the impact of economic development strategies

Economic development is one of the most important future-thinking initiatives you can launch at your chamber of commerce but it’s also a long-term plan. The seeds you plant today by nurturing relationships and increasing advocacy will not yield fruit for some time. But with a strong plan and measurable objectives for what you’re trying to achieve, you can help drive local prosperity through economic growth creating a better future for business and your community.


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