Economic Development Statistics Belie 'Quietness'
Jun 30, 2021
We value our partnership with the Corridor Business Journal in bringing eyes to this Report. Some of you have print copies distributed in the weekly CBJ. Others are reading the electronic version, which uses the CBJ’s digital platform as part of our working agreement with them. We also value professional coverage of our member businesses, key economic news, and many Economic Alliance initiatives. The CBJ is an irreplaceable part of this region’s business community.
That said, we don’t always agree with every news, editorial or business judgement of the CBJ. A recent CBJ editorial used the terms “retrenchment” and “quietness” to describe the region’s economic development strategy. The facts simply don’t square with that description, and I believe it’s important to economic momentum that business leaders are clear about that. Why does it matter? Confidence is an important ingredient of economic development, and I want to be sure developers considering new projects, businesses looking at expansions, investors doing due diligence on opportunities, and public officials planning for growth all recognize the underlying economic strength of this region. Sometimes after all the market studies, real estate comparisons, utility rate negotiation and business modeling, an economic development decision can come down to the perception of the spirit of a community, and whether it’s bullish on the future.
The past year has been a surprisingly strong one for economic development projects. The $550 million in capital investment by interstate commerce and growth-oriented businesses was the second best in the last five years, and that number doesn’t include residential growth or projects from smaller businesses or service industry shops, which also add to economic impact. Our region has had more state awards for job-creation projects in the past year than any other region in the state, even besting the Des Moines region. Brownfield grant awards to redevelopment projects have neared record levels.
Not every project makes the news. We worked with several companies that chose to forgo traditional celebrations that often go with economic success. Covid concerns curtailed ribbon cuttings, and a few companies decided they didn’t want any attention at all about job creation or expansion projects because they didn’t want to appear celebratory during a global crisis. When projects request taxpayer incentives, they become public record and invariably get coverage from local media. But if projects don’t request any public sector help, their footprint can be a lot more subtle, and some pretty big projects didn’t want or receive media attention.
As an organization, our economic strategies certainly haven’t been quiet. In the face of the pandemic when we could have retrenched, we instead launched a Rally C.A.P. campaign that was one of the most visible things we’ve ever done. An aggressive outreach campaign to “Champion And Protect” local businesses helped keep “buy local” top of mind for consumers. And that’s just one example of many in recent times. Yes, we were forced to cancel some events and networking programs that had been highly visible, but we then pivoted those resources to unprecedented efforts of writing grants for businesses, surveying industry leaders, providing content and programming on ever-evolving pandemic conditions, garnering financial and technical assistance for companies and more.
We advocate loudly about barriers to growth, too, not just the successes. Our labor market is still 14,000 jobs shy of where it was pre-pandemic, and certain industry sectors are at least another year away from full recovery. We need child care and immigration policy improvements that could help grow our workforce, and lawmakers can tell you we haven’t been quiet about that.
Please page through the rest of this Report to see more examples of how we have not and are not being quiet or retrenched.
Doug Neumann, executive director