What is the role of Local Economic Development Organizations?

This article was published in a series by Nick Poels the Phillips County Economic Development director just west of us down Highway 36. His description was a great way explain RCED’s role when it comes to developing the entrepreneurship ecosystem of the county.

  • Published on February 11, 2020

Nick Poels – Entrepreneurial ecosystem builder with a passion for tech/mfg. 4 articles 

When I was 13 years old, I was hosted for a couple of weeks by an exchange family in the beautiful city of Nantes – not far from the coast in northwestern France. My spoken fluency could be described as mediocre at best.

On my first night, sat in unfamiliar surroundings around the dinner table, Mme. Gillette asked me what my Father did for a living (in French – of course). I remember being somewhat overwhelmed by this simple question as it was difficult to articulate that my Father was an entrepreneurial business owner who manufactured reproduction classical marble – both sculptural and architectural. I stammered and sweated for a while on a translation for my response before eventually giving up; then proudly and confidently proclaiming that my Dad was “un constructeur”, a builder.

When my children are asked the same question, even without the language barrier, I would imagine that they hit the same stumbling block. “My Dad is in Economic Development.” What’s that? “Ummmm, I don’t really know.”

Indeed, many people would offer that same response when asked about the definition of economic development. When opinions on the subject are verbalized, they generally differ greatly from one to the next. However, in looking back at my response to Mme. Gillette, the description of “builder” is one that in all actuality is perfectly suited to the economic development profession. Building relationships, partnerships, community growth and an ecosystem that is conducive to entrepreneurial success and economic prosperity is the very foundation and responsibility of an EDO.

A large number of counties or municipalities across the State of Kansas, are served by a local economic development organization (EDO). Some of these entities are privately funded, some receive public funding as extensions of local government while others are a combination of the two. It is often unknown and unpublicized as to what these entities do and how they quietly stimulate growth and opportunity across the many facets of their local community. These unsung heroes are the ones who ensure that the tools are available for whatever project presents itself on any given day.

It may be surprising to learn that an estimated 85 to 90 percent of new job growth comes from the development of existing business. And who are those existing businesses? Our community entrepreneurs.

Yes, building industrial parks or recruiting a notable new entity to town is the sexy part of economic development. It’s the part that the public wants to see for affirmation that the EDO is functioning properly. Usually, its what elected officials and stakeholders want to see to gauge progress. But a support and development focus towards local entrepreneurial enterprise is critical to economic progress and future growth.

So, as I compile this series on entrepreneurial resources, it would be remiss to omit the one that is closest to home. The EDO. And for the purpose of this article, I will explain my thoughts on the function of a local economic development organization as a support mechanism for entrepreneurship.

Picture the path of entrepreneurship to resemble a road map; an I-435esque orbital freeway that surrounds a metropolis of ingenuity.

Whether an entrepreneurial startup, succession or expansion, an applicable entry ramp must be chosen in order to join this circular highway. Then comes the unknown variables: The autobahn speeds and the traffic jams; The potholes and the fresh new asphalt surface; The clunker breakdowns and the brand-new vehicles; The dead-end streets and the exciting short cuts; The full-service rest stops every few miles and the sign that exclaims “No gas for 100 miles”. The list continues endlessly.

Once at the end of the entrepreneurial journey, the corresponding exit ramp is selected, and the business is closed, sold off or passed on to another. 

This unfamiliar road is incredibly intimidating. If you’re anything like me when navigating a larger urban area, you’ll have a smartphone that continually toggles between GPS, Google and a variety of other useful apps. The phone provides a user-friendly interface to display these digital resources in a simple and recognizable format. 

For an entrepreneur, the EDO is their smartphone. A one-stop shop to access all the necessary resource partnerships (apps) required for their enterprise development project. Although the EDO can address numerous plights of the small business owner, it should come as no surprise that they do not have the answer to every situation. What they do have however, are connections to key resources with the expertise to assist in overcoming most barriers to business development. 

The small business owner can never be expected to understand or keep current on the wide array of programs and products available to enhance their process. They are already spending umpteen+ hours a week working on and in their development project. The EDO, on the other hand, focuses on compiling and maintaining a toolbox of beneficial support systems for the local business community. Funding, planning, development, regulation… they share open doors to face any business conundrum. And if you already have an idea of a resource to pursue, the EDO will likely have an insider advantage to get you connected with the best person for the job.     

A local EDO that is duly engaged with their business community, regardless of size or location, will work under the premise that:

  • Local entrepreneurship spurs investment, job creation, and tax revenue, thus creating a stronger local economy.
  • For a business, it is far easier and cheaper to retain a customer than it is to attract a new one. For a community, the same can be said for the retention of existing businesses.
  • Local entrepreneurs that already have a tie to the community are more likely to invest and remain in that same community. 

If you are an entrepreneur and you have not connected with your local EDO, it would be wise to do so. You’d be surprised at what may available to you and how you and your business could benefit from this usually cost-free resource.

I digress back to the word “builder”. The EM Kauffman Foundation is actively formulating a method to develop Entrepreneurial Ecosystems on a global level – environments where entrepreneurship can flourish as a result of the support and resource structures in place within a community or region. And what is the adopted term for the many people, entities and collaborators invested in this process? Ecosystem Builders

If you are uncertain of where your local EDO is or who to contact, your local Kansas Department of Commerce regional manager will be happy and able to help. To find your regional manager, visit: https://www.kansascommerce.gov/about-us/locations/in-state-business-community-development-offices/