Economic and Community Development
Chambers... Still on Top
It’s like deja vu. Late last spring I wrote a blog post praising chambers of commerce and their affiliates for dominating the list of top performing economic development groups. A year goes by and I’m writing practically the same blog post.
- Austin Chamber of Commerce
- Baton Rouge Area Chamber
- Economic Futures Group at the Spartanburg Area Chamber
- Metro Atlanta Chamber
- Mobile Chamber of Commerce
- Pittsburgh Regional Alliance
- Siouxland Initiative at the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce
- Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance
That’s right folks, 8 out of the top 10 economic development groups in the country are chambers of commerce or are affiliate entities housed at chambers. The dominance continues in the second 10 where half are chambers of commerce or similar private sector lead regional entities.
- Cincinnati USA Partnership
- Dallas Regional Chamber
- Greater New Orleans Inc.
- Indy Partnership
- Nashville Area Chamber
What’s the basis for all this recognition you ask? Well it’s pretty rigorous. Here’s how Site Selection describes the ranking process:
“As in past years, the top performers were evaluated on a variety of criteria, with four objective measurements counting the most: jobs, capital investment, jobs per capita, and investment per capita. In addition, Site Selection looked at creativity of economic development strategy; depth and breadth of project activity; ability to generate breakthrough deals; and the ability to properly document the contributions of the economic development organization to actual project results.”
Objective criteria, creative innovation, breakthrough deals and documented leadership… if you want to model the best in economic development, you have to look at chambers.
Regrouping and Refocusing in Nevada
In November, the Brookings Institution released an intriguing economic development report for Nevada titled Unify, Regionalize, Diversify.
The study highlights Nevada’s economic challenges, chiefly that it has been over-dependent on consumption sectors like tourism and home construction. But it also notes that Nevada’s key asset is an “overall business-friendly environment, including low taxes, relatively low costs, light regulation, and ease of business start-up/permitting.” I believe this is a testament to the ongoing public policy work of the Las Vegas Chamber.
After performing a full SWOT analysis and examining strong potential growth sectors, the study’s authors identify three primary recommendations to boost growth and economic innovation in Nevada:
- Unify: Install an operating state-wide system for 21st century economic development
- Regionalize: Support smart sector strategies in the regions
- Diversify: Set a platform for higher-value growth through innovation and global engagement
Sounds easy, right?
Digging deeper into the report, Kristin McMillan and the Las Vegas Chamber are already tackling many of the workforce and infrastructure challenges outlined in the report. They also plan to help feed the regionalized “bottoms up” approach recommended for a reworked economic development structure.
Brookings has done similar business plans for the Puget Sound, Northeast Ohio and the Twin Cities. If you’re not familiar with this work you should take a look.
This Year's Top Honor Goes To...
The November issue of Site Selection magazine hit my desk last week with this cover story headline: Texas Tops the 2011 Business Climate Rankings. Kudos to Texas for earning the coveted top spot on a high profile list from a respected publication. Impressive job creation stats, sound tax climate and serious tort reform efforts; seems to me like the Lone Star State earned this one the hard way. Texas was trailed this year by 2) Georgia, 3) North Carolina and 4) Virginia.
The same four states occupy the top spots on CNBC’s 2011 Best States for Business ranking, but in a different order: 1) Virginia, 2) Texas, 3) North Carolina and 4) Georgia. Forbes hasn’t updated its Best Business State rankings this year but in 2010 Utah took the top spot followed by Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado.
Best business tax climate, according to the Tax Foundation, is South Dakota. Best legal climate for business, according to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, is Delaware. Best educated workforce, according to CNN Money, is Massachusetts. I could go on and on.
A quick scan through ads in Site Selection (or many regional chamber websites) reveals just how much stock is placed in these kinds of rankings. Regions build their brands on them, politicians build their careers on them and business publications build their business plans on them. You better believe that when I win best husband, son, brother, and employee of the year, I'm having that magazine framed and sending a copy to everyone I know.
I think rankings are useful in determining how you benchmark your state or region against others. But you have to look at methodology for the ranking to have any meaning. The best is only the best because of the judging criteria, so if you're in the middle of the pack and want to move up you need to know what specific policies and practices to emulate. If your state is at the top, celebrate the successes that got you there but don't ignore your blind spots.
For a healthy dose of perspective about rankings and how we use them in the chamber/economic development profession, I suggest you read Mick Fleming’s article from the summer 2011 issue of Chamber Executive, "From Where I Stand: My Short List.” My favorite line from that piece:
“…the real problem with the media obsession with rankings—publishers, pollsters and pundits know that we don’t really care to hear the rest of the story. We want the digested, synthesized and, above all short, versions of news and analysis.”
Bloodless ED Takeover
The Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County in South Bend, IN announced last month that they will now lead business attraction efforts for the county. The move, jointly announced by the chamber and Project Future, the organization that previously performed this function, came after the head of Project Future accepted a role assisting innovation commercialization effort at the University of Notre Dame. Project Future will cease to exist starting January 1, 2012.
St. Joseph County Chamber president Jeff Rea said, “We are excited about these changes and believe they are in the best interests of both organizations and this community. This clarity and focus, the clear delineation of roles and responsibilities and the leveraging of key assets and resources, better position St. Joseph County for future prosperity.” The move creates a "one stop shop" for prospects and positions the chamber as the single point of contact for all business needs. The chamber previously led retention, expansion and workforce efforts.
“We still have a little heavy lifting to do," Rea added, "but it’s a move in the right direction and we really are seeing the community start to rally around the effort.”
This is the latest example in a growing list of recent chamber-ED mergers. Check out this blog post for other recent mergers – Chamber ED Merger Talk on the Rise – and look for an extensive cover story on this topic in the winter issue of Chamber Executive magazine.