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ED Now Feature: Opportunities and Challenges in 2018: EDOs Anticipate the Year Ahead
Eli Dile   on Monday, January 8, 2018 at 9:04:00 am

By Eli Dile

2017 was a big year for economic development. Continued strong hiring, Amazon’s search for a second headquarters, and budgetary threats to key federal agencies dominated headlines. The new presidential administration brought tax reform just before the calendar changed, and the specter of a re-negotiated NAFTA still looms large.

Today, economic developers are looking to 2018 ready to embrace new opportunities and tackle stubborn challenges. To uncover the foremost issues on their minds, ED Now reached out to our network of 50-plus Accredited Economic Development Organizations (AEDOs) with two simple questions.

What are you most excited about in 2018?, and, What is the biggest challenge you see in the new year?

Responses were wide and varied, some pinpointing national trends, while others highlighted local issues that no doubt will be familiar to many. Here’s what they had to say.


“I’m most excited about an economic boost that the federal tax cut might mean for companies and individuals in 2018. The new legislation will hopefully maintain the momentum we’ve picked up in the recovery from the Great Recession.

“I’m most concerned about the persistent skills gap and our declining economic competitiveness. We need to invest more in education, research, healthcare, and training.”

- Bill Sproull, FM, HLM, president and CEO, Richardson Economic Development Partnership, Texas


“The least publicized challenge facing every region of the United States is the continued slowdown in small business starts. As big businesses get bigger and fewer small businesses form, the economy is fundamentally changed. This has HUGE implications for all of us in economic development. For example, in Colorado, there are more than a million FEWER jobs being created by startups today than there were ten years ago. My hope for 2018 is that something will be done to ease excessive regulations and a ponderous health care system that is strangling entrepreneurs in the United States.”

- Mike O’Donnell, executive director, Colorado Lending Source


“One of the biggest challenges is keeping up with the evolution of the economic development profession. In my 30-plus-year career, we have gone from ’smokestack chasing’ to becoming ’community developers,’ with a wide-ranging mission of recruiting and retaining all types of business, including nonprofits and retail. Community colleges and universities have become economic development entities (though sometimes confusing economic development with economics)! Politicians have become ‘job creators,’ as employment and investment growth polls very high on just about everyone’s gauge. The old saying, ’If you are concerned with who gets credit, you are in the wrong profession,’ that was preached in the first year of teaching at the University of Oklahoma Economic Development Institute has never been more on target than in today’s world. With all of these changes, our mission is still as important as ever. We just have more distractions and politics to deal with.”

- Jim Fram, CEcD, FM, principal, Hot Springs Metro Partnership, Arkansas


“Billings has long been known as the hub of business in our state, but we were not traditionally known for our entrepreneurial spirit. That’s quickly changing, and Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) is planning how to best support this growing sector through a unique entrepreneurial space concept. The new space would offer physical and virtual opportunities for entrepreneurs to collaborate, receive training from local professionals, and access all of the business growth services available at BSED.

“Attracting talent to our region continues to be our biggest challenge. Billings is now considered a “micro city,” but it’s becoming a desirable size and location for talent seeking an escape from the big cities. All of our work highlights that you are “Better Off in Billings” due to shorter commute times, outdoor recreational opportunities, career growth, reasonable housing costs, community amenities, and a family-friendly environment.”

Steve Arveschoug, executive director, Big Sky Economic Development, Montana


“Scottsdale has not had access to undeveloped land to attract a new corporate campus in some time. However, auctions of property controlled by the Arizona State Land Department could put hundreds of acres of prime-location real estate in the private domain in 2018.

“The biggest challenge I anticipate – like many communities – is finding the resources to complete the many desired and necessary projects to support an ever-enhanced quality of life and retain our vibrancy as a destination for visitors and businesses, especially in our downtown.”

- Danielle Casey, CEcD, EDFP, director of economic development, City of Scottsdale, Arizona


“New Orleans celebrates her 300th birthday! The city will welcome its first female mayor, LaToya Cantrell, who will build upon the foundation laid through eight years of strong leadership by Mayor Landrieu. The New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA) debuts a new model that more intentionally incorporates workforce and neighborhood development into NOLABA’s existing business attraction, retention, and marketing programming. Economic development matters only because people matter, and in 2018, NOLABA will have enhanced internal capabilities to actualize this belief. 

“We are challenged to convey the value proposition of EDOs when more organizations are claiming to ’do’ economic development. It is important to create buy-in for the economic development ‘long game,’ for example, how the winner of Amazon’s HQ2 was determined by policy decisions made decades ago. Although incentives face resistance, they are absolutely vital to economic diversification and for minimizing risk to companies investing in emerging markets. Securing political support for the long game is challenging when ‘corporate welfare’ has become a familiar buzzword. Additionally, people need jobs commensurate with their skills and education, while receiving training that equips them to stay employed in an economy in a constant state of disruption.”

- Quentin L. Messer, president and CEO, New Orleans Business Alliance


“We are endeavoring to make entrepreneurship more a part of the business culture in our city of 266,000. Our new business incubator program, MileOne-International Business Assistance Center (M1-IBAC), will provide entrepreneurial support with a strong focus on minority businesses. The M1 center offers office and co-working space, mentoring, financing services, conference rooms, free WiFi, coffee, and inspiration! MileOne-IBAC also offers an “Investor Fast-Track” component that targets FDI. The program was founded by the Laredo Economic Development Corporation with an EDA technical assistance grant.

“We are also attempting to diversify from our mainstay industry of logistics, transportation, and warehousing to higher-skill, higher-wage industries including manufacturing, oil and gas, and medical services. Laredo, Texas, is the largest land port in the United States, handling over $199 billion in goods. Our trade relationship with Mexico, which has been critical to our economic stability and growth, will be crucial to 2018 and beyond.”

- Olivia Varela, executive director, Laredo Economic Development Corporation, Texas


“We are seeing an uptick in the level of interest from foreign-owned firms. Nearly 70 percent of our projects are now international versus domestic. This comes on the heels of being named the top mid-sized U.S. ‘City of the Future’ by fDi Magazine.

“Our biggest challenge is creating a greater awareness of Greater Richmond among our target audiences. Thanks to increased competition in the war for jobs, we have a real need to market our community in a way we never have before. We’ll definitely step up our game in 2018 and beyond, so be on the lookout for us.”

- Barry Matherly, CEcD, FM, HLM, president & CEO, Greater Richmond Partnership, Virginia


“Large-scale investments in our community, such as A Gathering Place for Tulsa (the largest private gift to a public park in U.S. history), support our regional economic development efforts. We’ve seen a steady increase over the past two years in the number of active projects in northeast Oklahoma, and we expect that to continue in 2018.

“Budget cuts continue to impact core state government services, which directly affect our local employers and workforce, as well as our ability to attract new talent and investment. Developing and attracting a workforce with new-economy skill sets will also be a priority for us this year.”

- Mike Neal, president & CEO, Tulsa Regional Chamber, Oklahoma


“I most excited to implement many of the projects we began in 2016 and 2017. We carried out comprehensive corridor planning studies that laid the groundwork for numerous redevelopment initiatives, and several projects that began last year will be completed or launched in 2018. 

“Project timelines, difficult topography, effective land-use planning, and related amendments represent the greatest challenge to our development and redevelopment efforts. Much of our work is long-term in nature, and will take several years to implement. Community education and engagement will contribute to widespread understanding, patience, and acceptance for well-planned economic development projects.”

- Jill Loope, director of economic development, Roanoke County, Virginia


“Growth in the cybersecurity sector means great opportunities for Mesa, especially at the Arizona Laboratories for Security and Defense Research (AZLabs), our city-owned, high-security former U.S. Air Force facility. AZLabs is the home of the Arizona Cyber Warfare Range, and in 2018, it will welcome the Arizona Cyber Center of Excellence. Additionally, Mesa has been selected to host the SOURCE conference this spring, a premiere event for cybersecurity professionals and company executives.

“In recent years, greater Phoenix, Mesa included, has experienced a significant comeback from the recession. We have seen increased demand for office and industrial space, with nearly 70 percent of our prospects looking for existing buildings. To remain competitive, our challenge is to encourage developers to create speculative space, while continuing to respond quickly to build-to-suit opportunities.”

- Bill Jabjiniak, director of economic development, City of Mesa Office of Economic Development, Arizona


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