Economic Development Trends from OKC

2022 IEDC Annual Conference

Published on Sep 26, 2022

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Drew Repp

Last week we joined with more than a thousand economic developers from across North America to share knowledge and discuss solutions to the pressing issues facing our regions. As is always the case, spending time with communities and clients inspires us. While economic developers are facing many challenges, their successes and “go get ‘em” attitude make this the best industry to be a part of. 

Oklahoma City provided an incredible backdrop for learning about everything from economic transformation to fostering talent to supporting economic opportunity. While attending sessions and in conversations with participants, three areas of trends stood out to us.

1. Opportunities abound, but collaboration is critical

What’s neat about our time at IEDC was hearing how people spoke of their challenges as opportunities. For example, talent is in short supply, yes, but that means there’s an opportunity to connect people—who in the past were left on the sidelines—to fulfilling jobs. The electrification of the auto industry and emergence of a mobility industry (smart parking in cities, mobility as a service, etc.) is just one sector that poses great opportunity for hidden workers and others.  

But these opportunities require a new level of collaboration. Many economic developers were candid about their struggle to figure out how to best work with their workforce partners. Brett Swango, Head of Location Intelligence & Workforce Analytics at Colliers, spoke of the symbiotic relationship of the Three C’s: companies, communities, and colleges. It’s our belief that this misfiring on collaboration is often due to poor communication among these. They have a common and shared goal of engaging talent, but they are talking about it in different ways. Companies talk of the abilities they need in workers, colleges about the qualifications of their degree holders, and communities about the efficacy of training programs. 

Whether knowingly or unknowingly, they are all speaking the language of skills. Consequently, skills data is a common language that improves collaboration.

2. Find your niche 

Or nitch? Whichever you prefer, it’s a good time to understand your community’s. Both talent and businesses are doing a lot of reevaluating in the post-Covid years. And in both cases what they are looking for is varied. Communities don’t need to try to be something they aren’t, because chances are someone is looking for what they already are

“As we said in 2020, Kansas had been social distancing for years,” said Bob Ross, SVP of Marketing and Communications at Greater Topeka Partnership. That’s a community that knows its niche and isn’t trying to “reinvent” itself but is leaning into its existing advantage. An advantage that isn’t going to be for everyone, but right for some. It was our sense that the communities who were finding the most success were leaning into their advantages in this way. And telling that story well. If you’re trying to determine your advantage, location quotient is a great place to start. 

3. Investing in talent works, and it needs to

The importance of talent isn’t just because of a tight labor market or a global demographic drought. It’s also because major industry shifts are requiring new or updated skills. 

The electrical vehicle (EV) industry was discussed often, as was metaverse. Gartner predicts 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in metaverse by 2026. And General Motors recently announced it will be investing $760 million in a Toledo plant to prepare it for making EV drive units for future GM vehicles. The CHIPS Act investment in semiconductor production will require a slew of workers, but the US share of global semiconductor production has fallen from 37% in 1990 to 12% in 2022. So where will the workers come from?

Communities and programs that are making investment in their talent the top priority continue to see success. And will have a clear advantage moving forward. Programs like Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN) for Southeast Michigan’s EV Jobs Academy that’s identifying electric vehicle and mobility-related occupational skill needs while developing and scaling credentialing programs. Or Chattanooga’s combination of developing existing talent through their Future Ready program while also enticing transplants via their Chattanooga Calling marketing effort.

The conference may be over, but the conversation doesn’t have to be.