The Latest in Economic Development

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This week’s blog explores strategic alignment of workforce and economic development, the intertwined fate of colleges and their host communities, and downtown redevelopment.  Comment below or send to

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

No matter where you come down on the skills mismatch debate (and another commentary here from The Atlantic), many cities see aligning workforce and economic development critical to addressing the talent challenges facing their local businesses and citizens.  Regional economic development authorities in Sioux City, IA and Bullhead City, AZ are working with their workforce systems, local employers and in some cases community colleges,  to better understand the existing labor force and talent needs of current and future businesses.  Licking County, OH is putting its data to use on a new website,, which “provides existing and potential employers with an overview of the community and its labor force, as well as links to economic development, workforce and education resources.”

In other workforce news, some are turning to non-profits as a way to overcome inefficient bureaucracies and apply more expertise to the serious business of workforce development. Detroit’s Mayor Bing is transitioning workforce programs to a new non-profit since “state officials routinely found mismanagement, inefficient services, poor performance and high overhead costs.”   The Manatee-Sarasota region, facing 13% unemployment, is working with Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to create a privately funded workforce-development agency called CareerEdge. “The idea was to see if a privately funded agency, unencumbered by state or federal bureaucracies, could have an impact on both the supply and demand sides of the labor market,” according to Florida Trend. So far, the results are promising.

And just when they’re needed most, many colleges are in decline, and taking their college towns with them, reports the Wall Street Journal. “The effects [of declining financial health of colleges and universities] have rippled across the local economy. Housing prices declined and housing starts fell to a 20-year low, in part because laid-off workers moved away. Students spent less and the city’s sales-tax revenue fell by 15%. In response, the city this year slashed its budget by 6%.”  Although dependence on colleges can spell disaster for some communities, Forbes says universities and their local economies would be well-served by strengthening the link between industry and university research and making it easier for business to engage with academia.  The city of Chicago is actively working with the Illinois Institute of Technology to do just that with the creation of a new Innovation Center.  “It will help unlock the potential of thousands of students while providing Chicago businesses with a pipeline of new products, processes and talented graduates to hire,” said Mayor Emanuel . Students will work directly with businesses and industry and test new concepts in an array of labs, flex spaces and workshops. The new 100,000 sq. ft. building will also house IIT’s Interprofessional Projects Program to offer students collaborative, multidisciplinary projects to ready them for careers technology jobs.

Interlude: Economic development tid-bits. Kauffman Foundation releases videos profiling importance of immigrant entrepreneurs to U.S. economy;  how we define small business matters;  two views on the promise of online education from Fast Company and NY Times; and more commentary on whether “coolness-will-save-us.”

Cities are pursuing various paths to downtown redevelopment, but the jury’s still out on how quickly they can be implemented and how effective they will.  In Cleveland, the county of Cuyahoga is seeking a new downtown location for its headquarters, a move many say will help stabilize the real estate market and spur much needed economic activity.  Culver City, CA hopes to “maintain its small-community character while trying to build itself into an attractive destination for shopping and recreation.” The loss of redevelopment funds, however, is threatening to stall several real estate developments in the pipeline.  Milwaukee, through the use of a Community Benefits Agreement in its Park East Corridor, is leveraging a 64-acre redevelopment project in the heart of downtown to strengthen surrounding neighborhoods and local businesses.  Seattle city council recently approved a series of land-use changes, including easing parking requirements for new development and raising the threshold for environmental review, which it says will streamline regulations and encourage construction downtown.