Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 3, 2013

Strategic planning for economic development

By Morton Marcus
Tribune guest columnist

---- — Tis the season for strategic planning. Organiza-tions, public and private, for profit and not-for-profit feel the need to know where they are going in the next year. If they haven’t made a new strategic plan (or cannot find the one they made last year), there is the anxiety of traveling without a map.

In today’s world, some argue, the strategic plan is as unnecessary as the paper road map. With a GPS device in your car, you don’t need a map in the glove compartment. All you need is an interim destination and the route will appear.

In a rapidly changing world, this view holds, strategic plans are the route to stagnation, which is the reason so few are followed.

Nonetheless, strategic plans are still popular, particularly when there is a change of board members or senior staff. Here is the basic outline of the standard, contemporary strategic plan for a not-for-profit, economic development agency.

Mission statement: The Grover’s Mill Economic Development Council (GM-EDC) provides support for the growth of new and existing businesses.

Vision: Grover’s Mill is a town where new opportunities and higher wages are sought to improve the lives our citizens.

Objectives:

1. Enable existing businesses to grow and prosper in GM.

2. Facilitate the attraction to GM of new firms that expand employment opportunities for our labor force.

3. Cooperate with local schools and other agencies to improve GM workforce skills and income potential.

4. Support and encourage GM community development with emphasis on infrastructure, housing and amenities.

5. Ensure the continuity of the GM-EDC.

The reader will see that objective number 5 is the most important. No respectable agency suggests it should consider going out of existence. The whole idea of sustainability for a local economic development organization is its service will always be needed. This is the core belief of most not-for-profit entities. Profit-making activities presume they will always be wanted.

Objectives 3 and 4 (workforce and community development) are not easily influenced by a LEDO. A strong voice, supported by good research and cogent argument, can help, but the future of the workforce and the community rests on factors well beyond the reach of a LEDO.

This leaves objectives 1 and 2 for serious and effective planning. Retention and attraction are the bread and butter of a LEDO. Its efforts must be focused on these two objectives if it is to meet the sustainability objective.

Most LEDOs put their strongest efforts into the attraction objective. It brings the best press and is easier than retention. To focus on retention may mean going head-to-head with existing, inept management which has no desire to change. Nor is it likely that an existing business believes the LEDO can provide meaningful growth advice.

All this puts our friends at the GM-EDC sitting with a strategic plan that looks good, but has only one truly actionable objective. Bring in something new to prove your worth or start surfing the web for new jobs.

Morton Marcus is an independent economist, writer and speaker. Contact him at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.