ED Secret from 002: How's That Strategic Plan Working for Ya?

Steve Jenkins, President of the Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, joined us during last month’s episode of Economic Development Secrets and shared with us how economic development has evolved over the the 41+ years that he has been in the industry. Further, he elaborated by sharing how he believes that strategic plans are no longer adequate performance measurements. See what Steve had to say in the excerpt below:


I think the one thing that … Having been around for 41 years in this business, the one thing that I have not seen is the speed of change that’s occurring and it seems to be gaining momentum, not slowing down in any regard. I also see probably the greatest deployment of technology that we’ve seen in the history of this nation, for many different levels of technology. All of those are going to have a profound impact on economies both local as well as statewide and national. I think one of the challenges that economic developers will have to face is being able to deal in that rapidly changing environment, identify where the new opportunities exist and pursue those opportunities aggressively. For instance, we no longer operate with a strategic plan.

Strategic plans today are dated as soon as they’re finished and we operate under what is called a strategic framework. We have benchmarks that over the years we want to improve. We don’t set into motion as if it was cast in stone strategies to get there, we again operate under our framework in the different functions that we are responsible for, so that if something is not working we stop doing it and divert those resources to something more productive. We have what we call the entrepreneurial mindset; if it’s working, build on it, if it’s not working quit doing it and put those resources to something more productive. That creates for us the ability to be flexible and adaptable in an environment that I do believe changes daily and I don’t see it letting up anytime soon.

Economic development organizations have always been great for doing strategic plans because boards ask for that and expect that and you just can’t do it today. Businesses aren’t operating with strategic plans like they used to, they’re trying to be nimble, flexible, and adaptable and strategic plans sometimes put a corral around the ability to do that.

I think it’s crucial for an economic development organization. Now, to get to that point your boards and communities have to understand, “Look, we’re not coming up with this wonderful strategic plan, it’s got all these things that we’re going to do, we’re going to create X number of jobs,” and so forth, we actually think jobs is no longer a metric of economic success because they’re changing so rapidly. What we look at is, do we see advancement in some of the key indicators like per capita and median income, household incomes, so that we know there’s prosperity in the population that then can in turn fuel the economy moving forward. Just because you create a job, it doesn’t mean it’s the right job so we focus more on the quality of the jobs being created so it’s … for us it’s better to create 100 quality jobs that have leveraged impact than to create 1,000 jobs that are so-so, don’t provide resources to those who hold the jobs that create personal prosperity or family prosperity.

I think it’s a major mind shift that has to occur and it’s not easy, because this profession has been used to saying, “This is our 5-year strategy,” or, “This is what … We’re going to create 1,000 jobs this year.” Well, you may, you may not. You may lose 1,000 jobs.


Click the link below to listen to the rest of Steve’s interview.


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