Thursday, January 13, 2011

Economic Development Research - DRAFT

This is a draft I am working on. It is about the importance of research in economic development.

Economic development has numerous definitions and goals. One of the simpler ones is the creation of wealth.  For an economic development agency with the goal of creating wealth, it requires a strong and vibrant research team. 

When I say research I do not mean the people that cannot match socks and live to create spider graphs.  Research in economic development is more of an applied science. In other words it must support the goals and objectives of an agency.
Lately, several ED organizations view research as a cost center.  ED organizations ask how does research add revenue?  That is an overly simplistic question.  If you consider a project manager as a knight ready to do battle (and let us remember, economic development is a zero sum game), the knight needs someone to put him on the horse, arm him, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of his opponent.  This is basic economic development research.  At its best good research helps an economic development agency determine what makes the service area unique.  Or, what are the key differentials.
If you accept the preceding paragraph, then the next questions are what skills are needed and what resources are necessary. 
Skill Sets
First let’s look at skills.  A good researcher understands the importance of deadlines and the value of quantitative analysis.  Ideally a researcher needs the following skills:
·         ability to design a survey instrument and conduct original research
·         verbal and written skills
·         take dense data and distill it into a document that is easily understood
·         ease with statistics and empirical data
·         find answers
·         improvise
·         patience
·         and above all, a sense of humor.
A good researcher can translate a prospect’s questions and concerns to the most appropriate audience.  They can help a stakeholder frame an answer to maximize the benefit to the prospect.
In general, economic development is a deadline driven business.  It takes a good researcher to find the answers.  What is not greatly appreciated in responding to a client’s questions and concerns is the ability to talk to the correct person in a company or utility.  In days of lean management, it helps to know who to talk to.  Site selection (new plant locations or expansions) are in large measure a business decision.
The next part is how to present the information to a client.  Most people take the simple way and give PDFs to a client with a brief explanation. A good researcher will summarize the information in a way targeted to the client and customize the supporting materials accordingly. 
A good project manager develops a relationship with a client. A good researcher helps the project manager justify a client’s decision.
Research is resource driven.  Today researchers have numerous resources at their disposal. In fact, more resources are available now than ever before. The researcher’s best friend used to be a good public library with a strong business section.  Now, we rely heavily on the internet.  Some resources are free, some cost money.  It can include a several government sources, national comparisons, numerous websites and national associations.  It actually is almost an embarrassment of riches. Among the most significant challenges, it is generally not finding the information; it is which source is best. 
I could list numerous resources, but that would be cumbersome and surely I would miss several good ones.  Rather, the best resource is the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER). C2ER is a national association compromising of economic development researchers.  The website is 
The second resource is International Economic Development Council (IEDC) data standards. The standards were developed several years ago by a committee of site consultants and professional economic developers.  The link is  For any new economic development organization or an existing one that is trying to ramp up its ED program, this is a good start. The data standards are comprehensive, covering subjects over 25 excel spreadsheets. A PDF guide is also available that gives excellent tips and sources.  Please note the guide was published in 2002 and some of the sources may have changed contact data and websites.  These standards also require an ED organization to conduct primary research.  Should you go ahead and complete the data standards, I suggest not putting up the spreadsheets up on your website.  It borders on raw data. Hence, you are limited as to the amount of analysis you can add.  Rather, I recommend that you seek to be data compliant. By that I mean you have the data standards fully completed and house the information internally.

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