by Jim Schuessler, Executive Director, Door County Economic Development Corporation
Thirty years ago, at the depths of a very significant and localized economic recession, Door County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC) was founded. Its initial plan, which included organizational, strategic, incentive and marketing plans, was well formed and executed during those early years.
Times have changed dramatically since then, and Team DCEDC is now focused on the needs of a very different present and future.
“Embracing a broader vision of economic development is an economic and fiscal imperative,” Amy Liu wrote in a report titled “Remaking Economic Development: The markets and civics of continuous growth and prosperity.” Liu, who serves as vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute, continues, “Our nation’s economic competitiveness and social cohesion remain threatened.”
Her report provides a framework for and case studies of a deeper practice of economic development that generates “continuous growth, prosperity and inclusion.” All too often, Liu says, local and regional leaders focus too much on “top-line growth” – such as taxpayer-funded incentives for business relocation – that doesn’t ensure “bottom-line prosperity.”
It might have been helpful for Wisconsin’s leadership to have heeded those words before the state struck the Foxconn deal – one that may have affected an election, but probably not in the way that was expected.
To address the needs that affect businesses throughout the county, DCEDC is embracing five action principles to help ensure the sustainability of the Door County economic ecosystem.
• Ensure that we’re setting the correct goals
Leaders at the forefront of remaking set long-term goals that go beyond traditional headline economic indicators to achieve more robust growth, productivity and inclusion while also setting shorter-term metrics to monitor progress.
• Focus on growth from within the county
Leaders in new approaches to economic development focus on strengthening assets that enable their distinctive industries to flourish and grow from within, rather than relying primarily on marketing to recruit firms from outside the area.
As I shared during DCEDC’s annual meeting in April, our focus is on business concerns that are “keeping owners and managers awake.” We don’t need to invest time chasing smokestacks, which is a largely outmoded economic-development practice in which companies are poached from other communities.
• Boost trade
Today, economic development best practices promote export growth and trade with national and international markets to deepen industry clusters and bring new resources and income into the county.
During the past few months, Team DCEDC has worked with entrepreneurs countywide on ideas to use Hub Zone; food, beverage and consumer goods innovation; and exports, including a Door County Sister City export campaign with Jingdezhen, China.
• Invest in people and skills
With waves of baby boom retirements already underway – and increasing diversity among the youngest cohorts of workers – the economic potential of Door County depends on its effectiveness in mobilizing talent and equipping workers with the skills that leading community industries demand.
In the past, Door County’s youth-apprenticeship program failed here due to lack of enrollment. We need look no further than Luxemburg-Casco to see a model that is growing and providing impact, and 13,000 apprentices statewide can’t be wrong.
Our high school home-construction program has added 10 new homes to Door and Kewaunee counties, but the commitment of five days per week over 39 weeks held enrollment to six this past year. With youth apprenticeship, we should increase our impact for students seeking to enter skilled construction trades.
• Connect place
The most forward-leaning leaders are harnessing regional markets and connecting local communities to them. Industrial, labor and housing markets are regional, but the people and assets that matter to markets are local. To create the market lift that raises incomes and opportunities, DCEDC is focused on regional-scale solutions to support strong, innovative industry clusters.
This applies to working with countywide businesses and providing both top-line and labor-force solutions that support their sustainability.
Every initiative in Team DCEDC’s plan pipeline – developing attainable housing in Liberty Grove, solving broadband issues in Clay Banks and many more in between – has been developed with these ideals in mind.
Making this happen requires a great deal of collaboration and cooperation. For these alignments to be effective, partners need to be focused on winning for the future.