Regionalism is key to successful economic development in 21st Century
When companies look at staying, growing or relocating to a particular area or community, they consider what that area has to offer in the ways of education, talent and potential for success. As a former small business owner in the recruiting and human resource consulting arena, I quickly realized that sometimes the talent I needed for one of my clients wasn’t necessarily found in my backyard. And when I spoke to other business leaders, I realized this was not an issue unique to my company or clients, but impacted everyone.
Twenty years later, the same dialogue continues throughout business communities all over Florida. The difference is that we are working smarter and getting better every day in our collaboration, cooperation and regional efforts, such as talent development, entrepreneurship and much more.
As I talk with economic, workforce and community developers throughout Florida in my role as president and CEO of the Florida Economic Development Council, many communities that once thought they never had the ability to cooperate on a regional basis are doing just that. They have found that regionalism can be a win-win for everyone. So how do you best accomplish that when we are emerging from the Great Recession and moving forward to recapture the jobs that have been lost, while continuing to grow and diversify the economy? In those areas that are growing stronger and faster, regional efforts seem to be the key answer.
It used to be communities competed with one another, and in some cases stole from one another—companies located just across county lines. Florida is learning that while competition is still sometimes fierce, competing on a global scale is the wave of the future. Regionalism is a combination of building trust among our elected officials, community leaders and business leaders for a common vision, and doing this without fear of evasion. When communities sit down and talk about what is important for economic prosperity, and of course there will be opposing views, they realize that everyone must come together and compromise, trust, respect and keep an open line of communication for there to be true success.
One of the strongest examples of regionalism is found right here. Florida offers one of the most robust entrepreneurial ecosystems, with Orlando and the Florida High Tech Corridor region at the heart of it. Successful programs like the University of Central Florida Business Incubator program, GrowFL, Florida Angel Nexus, Florida High Tech Corridor Council matching grants program and many more are helping individuals start and grow successful businesses. Recent research from the Edward Lowe Foundation indicates that over the last decade businesses have become smaller, with the number of firms with more than 100 employees shrinking by 3 percent, while firms with less than 100 employees are growing by 74 percent.
June Holley in her booklet “Building a Regional Entrepreneurship Network: A Guide to Action” states that, “supporting entrepreneurship is an economic development strategy with potential to revitalize regional economies and, at the same time, open windows of opportunity for individuals previously left out of the mainstream economy.” Supporting entrepreneurship, while on the surface appearing to be a one-to-one relationship, really is a one-to-many relationship. Creating a robust entrepreneurial support ecosystem that brings together regional and, many times, statewide assets—while also making connections among the entrepreneurs themselves—is essential to economic development efforts in the state.
Connectivity throughout Florida is also increasing with tools such as the Florida Virtual Entrepreneur Center, a free online web portal designed to connect entrepreneurs with business support organizations, programs and service providers who can help their new or growing businesses. Entrepreneurs navigate the center free of charge to learn about starting a business, expanding an existing operation or relocating to Florida. Resources are listed for all of Florida’s 67 counties, which enable entrepreneurs, business owners and entrepreneur support organizations to instantly connect with local, regional, state and national resources, programs and professional service providers.
So as you consider what is most important for your communities, look to those successes that are sometimes right around you and strengthen not just your local partnerships, but those on a regional level, as well.
Editor’s Note: Amy L. Evancho is President and CEO of the Florida Economic Development Council Inc., an association dedicated to economic development throughout Florida, utilizing education, advocacy and connectivity.