May 13, 2022

Economic Development is Still Not for Amateurs Book Review By Lenora Fisher

The Greater Peoria Economic Development Council and its municipal and economic partners are actively working to grow the economic health and vitality of the region, but did you know there are tried and true economic development practices that the entire community can do to achieve proven and replicable results?  Are you familiar with the game we are playing and the hurdles to overcome? What examples can we study to help make the current economic development efforts more successful?  And how can you help?  As the Director of Business Attraction for the GPEDC, I regularly interact with and glean insights from economic development leaders and our competitor regions. I recently learned about a resource that could help us address some of the questions above and I’m excited to share it with you today.

The resource is a book titled, “Economic Development is Still Not for Amateurs.”  It is the easiest to use, least expensive, and most efficient tool I’ve found for engaging our entire community in winning strategies for economic development. Economic Development training is costly and time-consuming for community stakeholders with other responsibilities, but community engagement is also crucial to the region’s success. I hope my review of this book will encourage you to grab a copy, read it and help support the region’s economic advancement. This tool can help align efforts, amplify the good work in progress and provide the insights and training needed to be a part of the community’s solutions.

The book is written by Jay Garner, a giant in the site selection industry and founder of Garner Economics, LLC, and Ross Patten, an experienced economic developer in Covington, Kentucky. This book is one of the best “how-to” manuals I’ve found to date.  I learned about the book at a few site selector conferences. Upon hearing from a colleague from Frisco, Texas – the fastest growing community in the country – that they used it as a resource for engaging newly elected officials in long-term Economic Development Strategies, I picked up my own copy.  We want to improve our economic success in GP, so let’s learn from the best!

When you get the book, the first thing you’ll notice is its brevity. With just ten chapters and 89 pages, it provides simple, easy-to-follow tips and tricks of the trade and is perfect for the busy professional. The authors start each chapter with a list of key takeaways and then share insights and best practices on the suggestions. The book covers topics from how the site selection process works to the importance of our work readiness efforts. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in improving the region’s economic success.

While it is challenging to narrow their suggestions to a few key takeaways for GP, I’ll highlight a few items that I found particularly relevant to our region.

In the first chapter, Garner says, “Certainty, simplicity, and speed comprise the three tenets of successful communities.” He later drills down and focuses on the certainty of the permitting and regulatory process…..“months are a deal killer.  And the fewer the weeks, the better”.  We have amazing and eager communities willing to change the zoning, prioritize a permit review or process an incentive request for a good lead; however, the timelines we typically give are in the 4-6 week range.  In the site selection world, that’s too long. They are looking for communities that have identified the businesses they want and thought through those businesses’ needs in advance. Can we take steps locally and on the state level to speed up our processes?

Another salient point is “Creating a long-term, sustainable funding source for economic development infrastructure (product) is a recipe for success”. Garner breaks this down by saying “Product is defined as those tangible real estate assets that either allow businesses to operate or are necessary resources for a real estate development to succeed (infrastructure). Dirt, without the appropriate infrastructure in place, does not make a site”.  I run into this a lot locally. We have great land available for projects; but we don’t always have the infrastructure in place to make them viable products. Challenges include no water or sewer to the property, the electrical capacity can’t support an industrial operation, the property is not fiber ready, or “the land is zoned for Ag instead of Industrial.” The list goes on and we are missing opportunities because of it.

Suppose we want to land a big project like the Facebook Data Center in Dekalb, a Rivian supplier, or even smaller, privately held companies needing new business locations. There is work we must do to be investment-ready. It won’t be easy to find solutions for all the issues above, but it will be extremely valuable. And it helps to know the game we are playing and how other communities are doing it to inform our strategy. Yet another reason why this book is such a great resource.

The above examples highlight topics for which I’m responsible on the GPEDC team.  Our talent pipeline mapping is also crucial to these efforts. Here’s another great insight from Chapter 4; “The number one differentiator between your community and your competition is having irrefutable proof of a skilled workforce that is ready to work today, as well as a talent pipeline that is ready to fill the jobs of tomorrow”. Again, I know that there is amazing work going on to build and grow the region’s talent pipeline, but have we proved that we have a skilled workforce that is ready to work today and queued up for the jobs of tomorrow?  There are great people and programs working on this very issue, and I know we have a solid case to make.  I’m excited about the efforts to start documenting our irrefutable proof!

A quick caveat to all of the above: please don’t take any of these points/observations as criticisms. They are intended to be rallying cries. We have amazing assets, brilliant people and an absolute ton going for us in Greater Peoria. But I also know that we will make it even more attractive and easy to attract businesses looking for new locations with a few targeted efforts around the suggestions in this book and the realities we can control.

If you are interested in the region’s economic vitality, please start with this book and then give your Economic Development partners a call!  You, too, are a vital part of the region’s growth, and together, we will make the economic impact we are seeking.  You can purchase the book here.