As an economic developer, your board can be a strong catalyst to progress or a minefield to tiptoe through. In fact, your board can even be both! Either way, when a board member calls, you always answer. While working at a Texas EDO, I remember that “board days” were “heels days”. In routine occurrence, women in my office would bring a second pair of shoes so they could ditch their flats and put on heels about 5 minutes before the board members arrived. I’m sure that our organization wasn’t unique. I’m sure most ED organizations go to similar lengths to put their best foot forward in the presence of board members.
So why is it that something as small as heels or a perfectly placed packet at each board seat is so important? It is about the appearance of having everything together in your organization. But more important than the appearance is actually having it all together! This means knowing details about the community, economy and projects and being prepared to answer questions from the diverse stakeholders. Every board member is concerned with a different aspect: you have the finance guy or gal who never fails to grill you on financials and fiscal implications; there’s the city council member who asks very specific questions about how this will affect the latest city initiative; there’s the school district board member, the hospitals or road district board member, the small and large business reps, the guy that is on 10 other boards, and many other types of board members. You have to be ready for each and every one of their questions.
Being prepared always works in your favor, so consider creating an internal due diligence checklist for your EDO. Check out the list we developed to get your wheels turning. A comprehensive due diligence checklist will help you prepare for your board’s diverse questions.
In addition to preparing yourself, prepare your board. A board retreat is an effective way to get everyone on the same page by learning the lingo and reviewing the basics. Here are some proactive steps economic developers can take to prepare their board to be a catalyst for economic development.
- Consider sharing with them your workflow of how a project goes from prospect to win.
- Provide them a prospect packet — the information you make available to prospective businesses requesting more information about the community. They might have some good ideas for improvements.
- Print out an economic development vocabulary sheet so you don’t lose uninitiated economic development board members in the jargon or grind to a halt explaining terms like TIF, 330, or separated contract.
- Teach them that economic activity drives tax revenues, how to interpret impact reports, and how all of this ties back to your overall strategic goals. Oh yeah, remind them of those strategic goals.
- Show new board members the type of information they’ll receive on a project by using a previous or hypothetical project and teach them your process. We recommend that you provide a concise, uniform one-page summary report of the project, but keep a few detailed reports handy. In short, don’t start in the weeds but be ready to tread there if necessary.
Are you in Texas and looking for a special educational event for your board or council to participate in? Invite your board to one of our Economic Development Secrets and Best Practices Summits. These events are free and have lunch provided. These summits are good refreshers for you and your board. We’ll have an economist there to answer all your questions and a panel of local economic developers to discuss the happenings of your region. Hopefully it’ll ignite action in your whole economic development team.
Banner Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/Andrzej Pobiedzinski