Prove the Worth of Rural Economic Development
If you are an EDO in a rural area, you are probably well aware of how challenging it can be to ensure that your constituents understand the value of economic development and believe that it is a worthwhile investment.
It can be difficult to find funding for economic development in rural areas, so it is essential to prove the value of your department. Showing ROI and effectively communicating what you do for municipalities in your region can be the key to overcoming doubts about your department. But this is often easier said than done.
Table of Contents (9 minute read)
- Prove the Worth of Rural Economic Development
- Young People and Rural Economic Development
- How to Manage Rural Projects That Are Understaffed
- How to Support Local Businesses in a Rural Area
- Rural Economic Development Strategies
- How to Foster Economic Growth in Rural Communities
- Business Expansion and Retention for Rural Communities
- Study Local Policy for Economic Development Opportunities
- Important Resources for Rural Economic Development
- Want More Ways to Get Your Community What It Needs?
Young People and Rural Economic Development
A mere 17% of young people live in rural areas. It can be challenging to attract and retain youth to rural communities, but they bring important value to communities. Youth also represent the future workforce and homeowners in their community. In order to attract young people to your region, you need to know what matters to them. With MDB Insight's Citizen Satisfaction IQ™ tool, you can get targeted data that is actually representative of the youth in your community. With this data, you can develop a youth engagement strategy to engage the youth in your community.
How to Manage Rural Projects That Are Understaffed
EDOs have an endless list of projects and initiatives to complete, but often economic development departments are understaffed. Time is a finite resource, but with a little help and some good tools, it's possible to stay on top of the game. You may not have enough staff in your department, but hiring a consultant can get you ahead fast. MDB Insight can run the Triage BR+ETM tool, giving you useful data and insights that will help you better support your business community in less time. Tools like the Regional Labour Demand and Supply Reporting System™ can help you tackle workforce projects with important data that shows you regional workforce trends. With these tools, you can quickly identify gaps and strategize to fill them. Both of these programs, and the support of a consultant, can help you get started on planning ahead and developing successful strategies and projects backed by real data.
How to Support Local Businesses in a Rural Area
Supporting local businesses is an important responsibility for EDOs. It can be challenging to know exactly how to support local businesses, but you can do a few key things to help your local business community. Start by connecting with local business owners and explaining who you are, and what you do. Many of them may not know what you can do for them. Next, start finding ways to create networking opportunities for local business owners. Networking builds a stronger business community that can support, promote, and help each other. Networking with local business owners is mutually beneficial for everyone involved. Then work on developing a strong BR+E program. The insights from a tool like Triage BR+E™ puts your finger on the pulse of your community and gives you the data you need to improve the health of your business community.
Rural Economic Development Strategies
Developing rural economic development strategies requires some ingenuity. When you're looking for ways to develop your economy, get creative, literally. Connect with local creatives and makers in your community, and find ways to build those industries. The residents of your community often have innovative ideas and knowledge, so encourage their leadership to build grassroots change. Capitalize on your local assets and industries; for instance, things like agritourism are becoming more and more popular. Start with small projects. A small community garden could develop into a local movement with the potential for new jobs and industries. It's also a good idea to keep an eye on what other communities are doing to drive their economic development. You'll very likely see some great ideas that you may be able to initiate in your region. At the end of the day, don't forget that economic development is a long game, and that small wins build towards the end goal.
How to Foster Economic Growth in Rural Communities
When you're trying to foster economic growth in rural communities, three key things can help maximize growth: diversify your local economy, improve internet access, and invest in a BR+E program.
Diversifying your economy starts with identifying your local industries, cultural assets, and talent pool, and using that information to support a healthy business community that encourages new ideas and growth. Improving internet access in your community helps local businesses operate more efficiently, potentially giving them opportunities to expand, and it makes your community attractive to business owners from outside your region. A business retention and expansion program, like Triage BR+E™, can help you save time and offer more targeted support to local businesses that need critical support.
Business Expansion and Retention for Rural Communities
Setting up a program for business expansion and retention for rural communities may be one of the most valuable initiatives you can start. It's a bit of a complex process, so it's important to do some research before you get started. Consider your budget, and the time available to you. If you have plenty of time, but a lower budget, you may be able to take on the task yourself. If you have a more flexible budget, and no extra time, you may want to hire a consultant for the process.
If you think a consultant is the best bet for your community BR+E strategy, make sure you do your research to find one that has extensive rural experience, a good reputation, and case studies. When you're trying to convince your council that hiring a consultant is the best solution, bring the consultant in for a demo, so your council can see exactly how things will work.
Study Local Policy for Economic Development Opportunities
Being aware of policy and changes to policies gives you two advantages:
- Your familiarity with policy shows councillors that you are genuinely invested in their community and work to stay informed of operations and changes.
- Changes to local policies often create opportunities for new types of businesses or growth opportunities for existing businesses. Being aware of these opportunities can help you drive business growth.
As an example, changes to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s policies opened up many opportunities for expanding rural economic development in Ontario. Being aware of the policies in your area can help you develop strong rural economic development strategies that tie directly to issues that matter to the community.
An understanding of policy could also help you tap into unidentified potential markets in your region, like waterfront property owners. If you can find ways to make it attractive for part-time vacationers to move permanently to your region, you’ll bring new businesses with them.
Many rural EDO offices are understaffed, so finding ways to work smarter is really important. There are many resources for rural economic development available. The best way to deliver great results while operating lean is to take advantage of economic development tools. Collecting and analyzing data is extremely time-consuming, so contract it out to a firm if you can. Delegating the data collection to experts will allow you more time to focus on supporting your communities and building strong growth.
Senior levels of government mainly consist of career politicians, but municipal councils consist of a variety of local community members who are involved and care about their community. Often you’ll be dealing with a wide range, from business owners to school board members, and from young people to retirees. Some of them may not understand the importance of economic development, but they care deeply about their community. If you can show how your work is improving and benefiting the community, they’ll be more interested in the value you bring to the table.
As an EDO, it's important to knowledgeably answer questions from council members about what you do and why it matters. One of the best ways to prove the worth of economic development in rural areas is to have current local data and market intelligence to back up your projects and initiatives.
Whether you’re trying to improve business retention and expansion (BR+E) in the community or better understand your labour force needs, data can help show your community leaders:
- What it is you do:
- collect information that gives you insight on how to support local businesses, predict the challenges they may face, and identify opportunities they can capitalize upon.
- identify local labour demand and surplus in your community so your community can more effectively attract younger workers.
- create a sense of place to drive visitors to your region and growth to your businesses.
- monitor critical community data using useful and accurate tools. MDB Insight has tools designed specifically for this purpose.
- Why what you do is important:
- economic development ensures the success of existing businesses and attracts the best companies and workers to your community. Take a look at what MDB Insight has done for communities across Canada and around the world.
For this data to have the best impact on the people who control the municipal budget, you must prove that:
- The data is collected quickly. So often, economic development offices perform BR+E surveys but can’t complete the surveys and analyze the information quickly enough. By the time they’re ready to implement change the problem has passed. However, MDB Insight’s Triage BR+E™ flags businesses with issues in real time so that economic development offices can act quickly to meet their needs.
- The data is relevant to your local community. Most labour force development tools focus on large-regional and national trends, ignoring the needs of individual municipalities. MDB Insight’s Regional Labour Demand and Supply Reporting System™ provides data on local labour trends so you don’t have to guess how overarching trends might affect local labour demand.
Providing your council with this level of quality assured, real-time data will help instill confidence and trust in your projects and initiatives. Having strong support from your local leaders will help you be even more effective, and drive even more economic growth in rural areas. Building trust will help protect your rural economic development program by minimizing changes from new municipal leadership.