Part two of our three-part series on working with local stakeholders continues with strategies for collaborating with regional economic development organizations. Part one is Collaborating with City Government and part three, Collaborating with Community Partners is coming next week.
Coordinating with regional economic development organizations (EDCs) maximizes your collective impact. It may be easier to operate as an island, working on your own initiatives, but if you choose that course of action, you will find there are a lot of redundancies. There will be limited resources being tapped by different sources to accomplish the same things. People outside of your groups will be confused and wondering who they should support.
EDCs have a lot in common with chambers. You are both focused on growth in the community.
Here are several reasons why they can make excellent partners in your strategic initiatives:
- Strategic Planning:
Economic development organizations can help chambers develop strategic plans to identify goals, priorities, and strategies for economic growth. They can assist in conducting research and analysis to understand the local business environment and identify potential areas for development. Deeper pockets and access to more extensive data can make them a good ally when drafting your strategic plan. Find out what their focus is for the year (or next several) and see how you might work together for mutually beneficial outcomes.
- Business Retention and Expansion:
Economic development organizations can work with chambers to retain and expand existing businesses in the region. They can provide support in conducting surveys, analyzing data, and identifying challenges and opportunities for local businesses. This information can help chambers develop targeted programs and initiatives to address the needs of local businesses.
- Business Attraction:
EDCs often have resources and networks to attract new businesses to the area. They can collaborate with chambers to promote the region’s advantages, such as infrastructure, workforce, and incentives, to attract investment and new businesses. Economic development organizations can also assist with marketing and lead generation to identify potential prospects for the chamber. They may also be in a better position to bring the state in for lucrative incentives when attracting a larger business.
- Workforce Development:
A skilled workforce is essential for economic growth. EDCs can work with chambers to identify skill gaps, assess workforce needs, and develop training programs in collaboration with educational institutions and industry partners. By addressing workforce development, chambers can attract new businesses and support the growth of existing ones.
- Advocacy and Public Policy:
Economic development organizations can partner with chambers to advocate for policies that support business growth and create a favorable business climate. They can provide research, analysis, and expertise on economic issues to help chambers shape their advocacy efforts and influence local, regional, and state policies.
This one is often overlooked. Collaborating with economic development organizations can get you access to their extensive networks of businesses, investors, government agencies, and community organizations. They can facilitate networking opportunities, joint events, and collaborations between the chamber and other key stakeholders. These connections can help chambers build relationships, access resources, and leverage expertise to achieve their goals.
- Funding and Grant Opportunities:
Economic development organizations are often aware of funding and grant opportunities available for economic development initiatives. They can help chambers identify and pursue funding sources that align with their goals and provide guidance on grant applications and proposal development.
By leveraging the resources and expertise of the EDC, a chamber of commerce can enhance its effectiveness in promoting economic growth, supporting local businesses, and achieving its goals. Collaboration between the two entities can create a powerful partnership and contribute to the overall economic vitality of the region.
But how do you get them on board and see your chamber as a partner and not a tag-along or competitor? Start by learning more about how these organizations work. The Congressional Research Service has a very helpful guide here.
Establish, strengthen, and grow the relationship between the chamber and the economic development organization in the following ways:
Establish Open Lines of Communication
As suggested for a better working relationship with the city, initiate regular communication. Reach out to key individuals, such as executive directors or program managers, to introduce yourself and express your interest in collaborating with regional economic development organizations and individuals.
Share information about your chamber’s initiatives, strengths, and resources. Be transparent and open to discussing potential areas of cooperation.
It’s likely your EDC covers a larger area than your chamber. Consider meeting with other chamber pros in the economic development organizations area and working together as part of a chamber think tank or consortium. This shows strength and unity while respecting the EDC’s time. They can meet with the chamber consortium to build a stronger relationship with the chamber community without meeting with five different chambers, for instance.
Identify Common Goals and Passion Projects
Identify the shared goals and objectives among regional economic development organizations and research your own local EDC. Their goals and achievements should be easily found and clearly stated on their website. For example, the Lubbock Economic Development Corporation shows their goals and progress for each year on their site.
Look for areas where your respective organizations can complement each other’s efforts. Discuss how collaboration can enhance economic growth, attract investment, support entrepreneurship, or address regional challenges. Emphasize the value of working together for the benefit of the entire region.
Foster a Collaborative Culture
Encourage a collaborative mindset among your chamber team and regional economic development organizations. You are not in competition. A rising tide lifts all boats. Emphasize the importance of collective impact and the idea that collaboration strengthens everyone involved. Promote a culture of information sharing, resource pooling, and mutual support.
This also provides an excellent opportunity to play on one another’s strengths. For instance, the EDC may have more of a macro approach (or a high-level, big business, attracting industry focus) and the chamber more of a micro one (focusing on small business retention or growing an entrepreneurial base). The two are different but complementary and can be married for effective growth.
Identify and Address Challenges
Recognize that challenges may arise during the coordination process. These challenges can include differences in organizational priorities, competition for resources, or potential conflicts of interest. Proactively address these challenges through open dialogue and collaboration.
Seek win-win solutions that accommodate the interests and needs of all organizations involved. Be prepared to compromise and find common ground to overcome potential obstacles. The answer may lie in focusing on the broader goal of regional economic development (with this group) rather than individual organizational interests.
You don’t have to do all the research on your own. There are vast tracts of information that has been researched and compiled by the federal government that are available to you for free. Try Data.gov as a starting point.
Collaborate on Joint Projects and Initiatives
Plan and execute joint projects or initiatives that leverage the strengths and resources of multiple organizations. This could include hosting joint conferences, organizing regional marketing campaigns, or coordinating business support programs. Pool resources, such as funding, expertise, or staff, to achieve a larger-scale impact and provide more comprehensive services to businesses and the community.
This includes opportunities for joint advocacy efforts. Collaborate on advocacy initiatives to promote your region’s economic interests. Speak with a unified voice on matters affecting businesses and economic development. The power behind this is much larger than just speaking on behalf of your chamber.
Highlight success stories and positive outcomes resulting from collaboration. Share these stories with stakeholders and the broader community to demonstrate the value of coordinated efforts.
Develop Formal Agreements
Consider developing formal agreements or memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with regional economic development organizations. These agreements outline shared goals, responsibilities, and commitments.
Clearly define roles and areas of collaboration in the MOUs. This helps to establish a framework for working together effectively and avoids misunderstandings or duplication of efforts.
Remember, building a strong working relationship with regional economic development organizations takes time, trust, and open communication. By fostering a collaborative culture, addressing challenges proactively, and engaging in joint initiatives, you can position your chamber as a trusted ally and facilitator of regional economic growth. Here’s an agreement between the city of Princeton EDC and the chamber for operation of their visitor center as an example.
Be Good Neighbors
Organize regular meetings and networking events with regional economic development organizations. Invite them to your event as attendees and/or speakers. This allows for knowledge sharing, brainstorming, and identifying opportunities for collaboration.
Understand Sharing Is Caring
Establish a system for sharing data and resources among organizations. This could include information about available grants, investment opportunities, or business support services.
Working together often yields stronger results than going it alone. The chamber and economic development organizations have similar goals but often approach these goals from different vantage points, making them obvious partners in creating a strong economy in the area.
In our next post, we’ll address the importance of collaborating with other community partners and give you some strategies to make the most of the relationship.