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Why shotguns and economic development don’t mix

It’s easy to take a shotgun approach to economic development.

Heck, who wouldn’t love to promise (among other things) workforce development, regional marketing, export development, sector councils and strategies, supply chain development, capital pool connections, trade missions, community economic development, land use development planning, social entrepreneurship, incubation and acceleration to his or her stakeholders? Boxes would get ticked, everyone’s fancies tickled, and short-and-long term goals mixed together.

The problem comes when you move past the promise, and into delivery.

‘Something for everyone’ promises are an executional nightmare that will cripple even healthy economic development budgets; they dilute your brand, so that you very rapidly become known as the ‘nothing for nobody’ folks; and worst of all, they either impinge on the work others around you are doing, or prevent others from offering viable services that could complement your own.

Lack of focus kills budgets
Even the biggest budget can be laid low by lack of focus.

Confusing agendas hinder follow through. And follow through is the only way to learn and improve from project to project. Truth is, projects tend to meander if your attention is pulled in too many directions at once, or too many team members are moving in too many different directions.

That doesn’t mean your economic development agency can’t set its sights on an expanded scope in the future. But stick to your knitting, get bona fide results, and make sure the world knows you’re getting better and better all the time. When you feel confident you have your specific area of expertise working on its own horsepower, look around to see which new offering might be worth considering. Top marks if that offering aligns with the brand perception of what you’re currently doing. Which leads me to…

Lack of focus kills your brand
A brand is both the promise you make to your customer, and the expectation that customer has of you.

If you start making promises in seemingly disconnected areas, your customer won’t know what to expect from you. That’s because the human brain is a busy place, and it shuts down if it has to process too many disparate thoughts.

Brands are created (among other things) to make comprehension easy. Better that you be known as a group that helps stable, growing companies grow faster and more effectively – that’s our unique selling proposition – than a group that helps startups, stable companies, large companies, people in companies, industries supporting companies, etc etc. There simply isn’t one thing for your customer to focus on. And that means, when someone who could use you asks folks why they’d recommend you, those folks will be hard pressed to give a viable answer.

Lack of focus discourages others who could help you
Trust me, you aren’t the only agency in town trying to develop the local economy. Every government, many corporations, and even visionary individuals are out there, helping build diversity, depth and resilience in their local industry. And guess what? They want to help you.

This may feel contrary to those of us with a territorial bent. We may think this town ain’t big enough for all of us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s why. Virtually every group (or company, or person) in your town working on economic development is most likely trying to focus on a specific area – just like you.

If your area of focus is helping stable, growing companies grow faster, you’d probably collaborate brilliantly with groups passionate about startups, solopreneurs, and service industry groups. Heck, they’ll send business your way if you’re clear you aren’t interested in ‘mowing their lawn’.

The best part? Winning allies with complementary strengths helps build your network. It makes all of us smarter and more effective. And it makes our job fun.

So the next time you’re tempted to take on too much, or promise too much, remember: shotguns are fine for skeet shooting. But they have no place in economic development.

Emilie de Rosenroll is the Executive Director of the South Island Prosperity Project.

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