RVA & the future of economic development
GRP President & CEO Barry Matherly was featured on the Community, Jobs, and Progress podcast hosted by Brad Tabke. The podcast focused on the advantages of the Richmond Region as well as the future of the economic development industry. Here are a few key highlights, and a link to where you can listen for yourself:
We see the mid-size Richmond market as a huge advantage.
In a capital city, a lot of the arts and culture of the whole state are represented here, so we have a very high quality of life. We have a lot of educational institutions, which is also indicative of the state capital, and the ability to have a mid-size city structure allows a lot of people to enjoy these kinds of amenities and lifestyles in a far less crowded and very cost-effective place to live.
What we do, and what we advise many other communities to do, is a cluster strategy to try find the four or five industries that the community excels in. That way, when you have a plan to go out and recruit or help existing businesses, you can really narrow your focus. Even if you have limited resources, you can accomplish a lot with a strategy.
We only do missions in the clusters that we are strong in. We have six of them that we are very strong in the region. Food and beverage would be one of those. We look at areas where there is a high concentration of food and beverage companies that might need another location in Virginia. For example, there are a lot of great food and beverage companies in California that will stay on the west coast, but need an east coast presence. So we go there a lot and work with those companies to get an east coast operation. We do a lot of work with our clusters, even when we travel internationally.
In every locality or region, there are pockets that are not doing well economically, and we realize that we need to look at those pockets and try to devise strategies where everybody benefits from economic growth.
In general, economic developers are just starting to build the awareness that that’s something they should think is part of their job. There’s a lot of different strategies out there and you’ll see more about this in the future come up in the profession, but there’s discussions centered around public transit. Is there a way to get workers, (it could be van sharing, carpooling, buses, etc), from areas that there are high rates of unemployment to regions that need labor? There are ways to develop business sites, industrial sites, and office sites closer to where these disadvantaged communities are so that people could walk to those facilities.
The future of the profession
If you look at our members in the International Economic Development Council and you ask what they do, business retention & expansion is number one. It’s not recruiting or marketing, it’s helping existing businesses. Sometimes communities lose sight of helping their existing businesses grow, which is by far the best generator of new jobs and investment in a community.
IEDC has a think tank called the Economic Development Research Partners, and one of their big new projects is really looking at business retention and expansion and saying, “how can we do a better job of this?” So in the future, we are going to look at ways to help existing businesses more.