States and regions are increasingly recognizing the importance of fostering strategic alignment across economic development initiatives. The benefits of alignment range from enhanced economic outcomes to a more robust preparedness for future economic disruptions.

Kicking off in April 2023, the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness (CREC) Policy Academy was funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to improve alignment between state economic development agencies and local partners, especially EDA-designated Economic Development Districts (EDDs). The Policy Academy established a nine-month cohort learning process with participants from Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, who embarked on a process to better align strategies and actions between state leaders, EDDs, and other state and local stakeholders. 

The goal for each state is a united, collaborative, and efficient approach to economic development that maximizes resilience and growth with opportunities. As the Academy concluded in January 2024, state teams described their successes in starting to transform the economic development landscape in their states. They also reflected on the lessons learned and what they would have done differently in the process. 

Four key takeaways from the Academy on efforts to create greater strategic alignment are:

It is necessary to be intentional about relationship building. Embed the concept of alignment into the daily work of economic development teams and expand the coalition of stakeholders who support the goals of alignment. 

Cultural change is needed for sustainability. Look beyond the usual suspects and get comfortable communicating with a wider network of partners and stakeholders. Changing behaviors requires incentives that encourage stakeholders to embrace new ways of collaborating, moving beyond traditional silos to accept a culture of openness and trust.

The work is simple, but simple is not easy. Build in the time to address the cultural shifts, organizational dynamics and relationship building required to kick off new initiatives or ways of doing business.

High-level buy-in is important for success, but staff buy-in is essential. Secure buy-in from leadership but the effort will become institutionalized at the staff level. Devote the effort (and resources) to enable staff commitment to move initiatives forward. 

Great work can be done individually, but greater achievements are possible when a team approaches a project through collaborative partnerships. The Policy Academy showed the six state teams and the national ecosystem the benefits of coordinating strategies and emphasizing alignment in economic development activities and processes. As we know, economic development is never finished; therefore, the work is an ongoing journey with new and varied challenges always emerging, and requires adaptability, flexibility, and a shared dedication to constant progress.

For more information, please see the report, CREC Policy Academy: A Learning Cohort Designed to Improve Regional Competitiveness by Enhancing State and Local Alignment Strategies.

Access our related articles: 

State-Regional Strategic Alignment

Building Stronger Relationships in Economic Development

Progress on Strategic Alignment

This blog article is adapted from, Success! Building State-EDD Strategic Alignment through the CREC Policy Academy. This article originally appeared on the State Economic Development Executives Network website under the heading for State-Local Alignment. Please note that the materials included on the SEDE Network’s State-Local Alignment webpages were prepared by the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness using Federal funds under award ED21HDQ3070060 from the Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.