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Book Review Growing Jobs: Transforming the Way We Approach Economic Development
Eli Dile   on Monday, December 11, 2017 at 9:01:00 am

By James Reid, IEDC intern, University of Sydney

Growing Jobs: Transforming the Way We Approach Economic Development” looks at traditional economic development strategies and imagines an improved delivery model. Motivated by the 2008 recession and the following slow recovery, author Thomas Tuttle posits that our job creation strategies are outdated. Given the impact of globalization, Tuttle argues for a new economic development framework focused on creating knowledge assets and learning ecosystems within communities, and shifting the economic development organization’s role to a learning organization.

Tuttle directed the University of Maryland Center for Quality and Productivity for 26 years, collaborating with the state’s Department of Economic and Employment Development (now the Maryland Department of Commerce) to enhance the competitiveness of state manufacturers. Tuttle writes from a quality management perspective to offer a big-picture take on a new way forward for economic development.

To create sustainable jobs and economic growth, Tuttle argues communities must do two things –increasing learning among citizens that sparks continuous engagement, and uncouple economic development from the four-year political term. Additionally, Tuttle lays out a vision for the optimal governance structure of an economic development organization.

Weaknesses of current policy

Tuttle identifies two key deficiencies in the current economic development service model.

  • Knowledge capital is lost when staff is replaced after a two- or four-year political term. Often, the long-term momentum essential to sustained economic development doesn’t fit into politicians’ short time horizon, thereby undermining long-standing programs and initiatives.
  • Competition between states to attract firms to relocate creates a win-lose paradigm. The “job-raider” approach creates a bidding war over companies with relatively little payoff.

The solution to the loss of knowledge capital, Tuttle argues, is the separation of core economic development processes from electoral politics. Regarding competition between states for firms, he instead recommends that policies focus on improving education systems and emphasizing quality of place to nurture and attract talent.

Tuttle argues that “the only real strategic investment for any region is an investment in education” to up-skill the workforce, which produces economic gains and growth from within.

A new framework for local development

Tuttle sees the ideal economic development delivery model as one led by a private economic development corporation that is immune from political influence. Tuttle recommends this private, nonprofit organization receive two-thirds of its funding from the private sector and one-third from local government. This organization would operate with four key departments focused on business attraction; business retention and expansion; workforce development; and new business startups.

The local economic development corporation would liaise with key external partners, such as state and federal government, nonprofit community organizations, and business, all providing support and funding for key program initiatives.

Additionally, Tuttle introduces nine operating principles to guide the local economic development system that enables the above units to achieve their goals.

Leadership system: Rather than a simple top-down leadership model, a leadership system embraces a more diverse spread of individuals spanning the community, recognizing and elevating those who succeed in their designated areas.

Vision and strategy for place: The community and economic developers must ask themselves, “What type of economy and place do we want to create?” and deliver a strategy that acts on that vision.

Engage and inform individual and organizational partners: The economic development system must view individual citizens and businesses as partners, encouraging engagement through collaboration.

Assess and build community assets: Conducting a SWOT analysis enables a community to identify and build on strengths as it creates its economic development strategy, while also mitigating threats.

Community information, measurement, and analysis benchmarks: Adopting a set of economic development metrics provides a lens for economic development leaders and the broader community to objectively assess progress.

Community partnerships: Public-private partnerships are key vehicles to attract resources, address workforce challenges, engage citizens, and deliver services.

Codified tactics of economic development: Each unit within the economic development corporation must define its key processes and implement them consistently to achieve planned outcomes.

Continuous improvement: Collectively and continuously set new targets within each operating unit.

Tracking results: Adopt economic, social, and environmental indicators that measure changes in economic development outcomes.

A new framework for state and regional development

The number of players involved in community economic development has expanded dramatically, including universities, business groups, entrepreneurs, nonprofit executives, and community groups. Tuttle argues that regional partnerships are essential to solving employment and skills challenges through collaboration and pooling resources. Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution describes this new model as a “vision for metropolitan areas as a group of linked entities that all contribute to the state and to each other. This usefully ignores old regional turf wars.”

To facilitate and manage this growing network, state economic development organizations must restructure, expanding their horizons to provide a “backbone” support structure that assists “frontline” organizations’ efforts. Tuttle suggests states can best do this with:

  1. Inter-agency councils

  2. Community and economic development planning councils

  3. The governor’s office, state legislatures, and higher education

Tuttle suggests appointing private-sector leaders to chair the above-mentioned planning councils. The council should also incorporate a broad selection of individuals that include economic, social, educational, and environmental leaders.

Aligning the values of state and local economic developers presents a key challenge within the existing model. Tuttle recommends establishing liaisons between local communities and the state that can facilitate alignment between local and state goals, and importantly, access financial resources. This value alignment would extend to the inter-agency council, requiring that all state agencies with local programs relate their initiatives directly to the needs of local communities.

Case studies

Tuttle uses Austin, Texas, and Dubuque, Iowa, as success stories that exemplify these economic development techniques. Austin’s “Technopolis Wheel” uses influencers across different technology sectors to build collaborative relationships that create self-sustaining growth. Similarly, the formation of the privately funded Greater Dubuque Development Corporation established a communication network among business leaders, government officials, the chamber of commerce, and average citizens as well. The belief that “everyone should have a voice” created a powerful community-developed vision statement that served as a lens for policymakers.

Achieving a “win-win-win” system among public, private, and nonprofit organizations creates an environment focused on community success and progress, rather than individual reward and one-off projects. Ultimately, such a partnership will foster an environment of sustainable job creation and economic growth both locally and regionally.


Growing Jobs is available for purchase in the IEDC bookstore.


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