The landscape for economic development – local, regional and state – in Virginia continues to evolve in fascinating ways. Though primarily concerned with traditional activities such as industrial development, corporate attraction, business retention & expansion, contemporary economic development policy-making and practice has shifted toward an all-inclusive approach that embraces community planning, tourism promotion, entrepreneurship ecosystems, workforce investment and technology innovation. In Virginia, a clear indicator of this phenomenon is the ever-broadening array of subjects – and increasingly diverse cadre of professionals – who comprise the state’s economic development profession.
However, the arena is rather crowded as the Commonwealth has:
- Over a dozen state agencies spread across five Cabinet secretaries
- 50+ regional public-sector development systems (EDOs, PDCs, WIBs, etc.)
- Over 100 cities, counties and towns with economic development departments
- 300+ organizations supporting local entrepreneurship and innovation
- 23 public community colleges & 15 public universities now charged with enhancing economic development via increased R&D, workforce development and community engagement
Virginia regularly ranks in the top quartile of states for University R&D, STEM employment and venture capital, and it has a historically friendly business climate with among the lowest rates of corporate taxes, unemployment and unionization. However, a number of lingering issues exist that present ripe opportunities for developing creative solutions:
- Significant imbalance between “NOVA” and “ROVA” for high-growth & high-tech
- Entrepreneurship ecosystems are fundamentally local and/or regional
- Quality of available services matters more than quantity
- Disconnects between goals of economic developers and needs of entrepreneurs
- Prevalence of short-term economic development policies & programs with very few long-term strategic efforts
This is the environment into which new projects will step, an environment that requires not just flexibility, but agility. Meeting the demands of the Agile Economy means lifting up and launching programs and initiatives that boost entrepreneurial ecosystems, spark creative placemaking, and leverage social innovations to change the lives of citizens and communities. It mandates harnessing the power of relationships and research to convert ideas into innovation. Welcome to the brave new future of growing relevant, creative and agile economies.