No line item for a strategic plan in the budget this year? There are still some high-level issues you can pursue that will help raise the profile of economic development in your community:

First, is your state government bent on sabotaging the environment for the young, creative-class workers typical in the high-value industries you are courting? Besides taking comfort in the fact that this is a common complaint across the country these days, consider the following:

  1. Our nation is governed through a system that creates disproportionately high representation on behalf of rural areas, which often are the poorest areas as well.
  2. Economic development is usually a trickle-down affair, geographically, in which rural areas seldom score big employment-growth hits, but can usually benefit when their nearest urban area prospers – directly through spin-off activity from expanding industries, or indirectly from increased spending power in the region.
  3. Competition among states and regions for expanding or relocating firms often resolves at the margins – small differences can sway big decisions.
  4. Can you help ensure that your state legislators understand points 2 and 3 above? Better yet, are your fellow economic developers organized enough to “workshop” this together? (If not, any excuse to organize this group can pay multiple dividends.)

Second, what local asset has either been under-promoted or is somewhat dormant and would benefit from some focused attention? If this asset requires more of an investment than is available at the moment, even sketching out a simple strategic direction, with appropriate stakeholder participation, will show the community’s commitment to progress.

Third, if an economic development strategic plan is needed to demonstrate a comprehensive commitment to progress, consider phasing the process with low-cost elements first, such as convening stakeholders for “exploratory” planning sessions – which gives you a chance to educate and be educated, while the group gains another networking cause. The entire process can even be phased rather than follow the traditional continuous format.

Finally, what new alliances can you find with neighboring places (or for that matter with “sister cities” elsewhere), or what existing alliances could benefit from refreshing? Are mutual marketing interests fully exploited – what can your community offer that is complementary to and minimally competitive with what your allies are offering?