Defining Economic Development Success

Defining Economic Development Success

By Bill R. Shelton, CEcD

Jobs and better jobs are the historical gages of economic development success. The quest for more jobs and better paying jobs can be traced back to the 1930s and the State of Mississippi’s Balance Agriculture With Industry (BAWI) program to increase and improve job opportunities.

While jobs and better jobs are still goals for many communities, particularly in areas of under employment, in other communities economic, social and environmental goals and objectives have replaced job growth as the measures of economic development success.

Replacing jobs as a metric for economic development success and redefining success in light of the new goals and objectives is a challenge. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as it sounds. At the heart of new success metrics are key performance indicators (KPIs), which are the internal measures that reflect on the organization’s day-to-day operations.

It is OK to use a wide-range of KPIs for internal control, but the definition of success should focus on only those metrics that best reflect the strategic priorities and function of the economic development organization. A flexible definition of success has the ability to change over time as the goals and direction of the organization mature or change.

Here are three metrics being used to define economic development success that serve different goals and purposes:

Private-Sector Investment. Investment attracted, particularly from the private sector or from outside the community, is a metric that indicates the health of the local economy and is a measure of the success of economic development efforts.

Increased Property Values. In specific geographic areas such as downtown business districts or declining neighborhoods, the increase in property values is of major concern and an economic development goal.

Targeted Business. Attraction and expansion of businesses in targeted geographic areas, such as grocery stores to food desert neighborhoods, can be a strategy as well as a success metric.

Defining economic development success is a first step in maximizing performance and aligning the organization’s overall development strategies.