Successful economic development: Don't move away from outcomes measurement
During my consulting career, I have had the opportunity to work with over 70 communities in five provinces on economic development strategy ranging from places with hundreds of thousands in population to those with a few hundred.
It doesn’t matter the size, in my experience economic development efforts/organizations tend to focus on activities-based measurement or if they do put in place economic outcomes-related measures, they will over time revert to measuring and promoting all the wonderful things they are doing on a daily basis.
This is not particularly surprising. Reporting and celebrating all the great things being done - counselling small business, promoting the community on social media, attending trade shows, doing research, writing documents, hosting in-missions, advocating for the community on a host of issues - these are all things with clear deliverables. You were asked to write a report making the case for investment in manufacturing in your community. Done. You met with 50 prospective entrepreneurs. Done. You implemented a social media campaign and got 10,000 views. Done. It’s neat and tidy.
Now consider an economic outcomes model where you are measuring the increase in municipal tax base attributable to your efforts or the number of business investments or the number of jobs created. That’s hard.
Even if you can get accurate measures - people will question why you are taking credit for the taxes or the jobs or the investment. Usually there are multiple stakeholders involved in successful economic development.
Then you have the problem that much is out of your control. How can an economic development agency truly control all the factors that drive business investment decisions?
All of that is true but if you move away from a relentless focus outcomes measurement - you can lose sight of the point.
All of that stuff you do - at considerable expense to the taxpayer - is worth very little if you can tie it to a return on the taxpayer investment.
A relentless focus on outcomes measurement will force you to look at every decision through the lens of taxpayer ROI. It will force prioritization. Will this effort help lead to an outcome - increased taxes, jobs, investment, etc.? If the answer is no, or unlikely or something wishy washy, then then don’t do it.
I’m not suggesting you throw out all those activities - social media campaigns, etc. - but I am suggesting everything should be done to support a plan to drive economic outcomes in your community.
An auto manufacturer that does all the right things at the factory level and has the best promotional efforts but can’t sell cars or make a profit - it’s all moot.
We need a little more rigour I think these days when it comes to the billions of dollars spent across the country each year in the name of economic development.