I live in Statesboro, GA, a small college town close to Savannah. Despite our relatively small size, Statesboro’s most pressing challenges mirror the issues that I see the communities of RDG’s largest major metro clients grappling with. This was hammered home over the weekend when my amazing wife and I attended the Mayor’s Ball where our mayor, a host of community volunteers, and Chamber leadership offered a call to action for addressing inclusive economic development, transportation and infrastructure, and workforce availability. Sounds like one of your Annual Meetings or State of the City events, doesn’t it?
Last year’s National League of Cities’ State of the Cities Report, published in May of 2018 and found here, backs up that communities of all sizes are attempting to figure out solutions to similar puzzles. To write the report, NLC researchers analyze mayoral state of the city speeches between January and April in order to identify the 10 most cited issues on the forefront of the minds of mayors from around the country. Three of the top four most cited issues were economic development, infrastructure and housing. Based on what our firm is seeing around the country, I suspect the 2019 study, due out in a few months, will report very similar results.
Government officials and the private sector have certainly leaned on economic development organizations and chambers of commerce to spearhead community economic development efforts for quite some time now. More and more these same organizations are also being asked to tackle issues like infrastructure, transportation and housing. These can be much more daunting challenges!
Here’s the good news. Chambers and EDOs, are finding opportunities to play significant roles in being part of the solution on these issues. Yes, the right solution does vary depending upon the politics of a community, but there are examples of best practices that can be emulated around the country. I’ll highlight a few of RDG’s recent and current clients.
Three years ago, the Charleston Metro Chamber included, as a component of its Accelerate 2 strategy and funding campaign, raising dollars to employ an on-staff local government advocate. This person attends all city council, county commission and corresponding committee meetings in the 3-county region to lobby for local legislative decisions around issues like transportation, infrastructure, housing, and permitting. I caught up with a member of the team there recently who said that they feel this is some of the most impactful work that they are involved in.
Additionally, the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, the regional EDO, has worked with its top investors to create a private sector driven strategy to reduce the amount of traffic during traditionally peak hours. That initiative will be publicly launched this year, and while not designed to be the ultimate solution, is a step in the right direction while the region awaits road infrastructure and mass transit improvements.
ChamberRVA, in Richmond, VA, launched their FutureRVA strategy and funding campaign a few years ago. One of FutureRVA’s two pillars of focus is infrastructure advocacy. They raised significant new dollars for the organization behind the notion that as the regional chamber they are in a unique position to help navigate regional solutions to traffic, infrastructure and quality of place projects. This funding has allowed ChamberRVA to weigh in on a number of projects including improvements to the Richmond Marine Terminal and the development of Navy Hill, which is a cool neighborhood revitalization project.
The last example that I will offer is the Boulder Chamber’s recent launch of the Boulder Together strategy and funding campaign. Workforce housing was one of three pillars that comprised the strategy that was very workforce centric. The Chamber went to market without a plan in place for a housing solution, but instead outlined the steps it planned to take to identify a private sector driven strategy to address Boulder’s lack of affordable housing. RDG found workforce housing to be one of the most popular pillars during the funding campaign.
As our local public and private sector leaders look more and more to our industry to identify potential solutions to these major challenges, it is comforting to know that you don’t have to take on this difficulty work alone. There are innovative new ideas being launched all the time by chambers and EDO’s that may inspire your own solutions. In my line of work, I am lucky to see a lot of this first hand as we play our role of seeking revenue to make them possible. Make a point of reaching out to your industry peers, talk with ACCE, IEDC and other related associations, and reach out to firms like ours. We are lucky to work in such a collaborative friendly industry.