“All politics is local,” is a statement made famous by former longtime U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. Similarly, I’ve heard many people say, “All change begins at the local level.” And guess what? Economic development is local too!
Sometimes it’s difficult for the public to understand what economic development is. The truth is—sometimes I do too! One reason is that economic development is constantly evolving and growing to meet our changing needs as an Adams County community. Additionally, economic development is not “one size fits all,” so it can look different in different communities—at those unique local levels.
At the Alliance, our mission is “to improve the economy of Adams County while preserving and enhancing the quality of life” (let’s pause there for a moment, to connect economic development with quality of life!) “by formulating, implementing and promoting economic development strategies for sustained investment and employment opportunities in Adams County.”
Yes, local economic development is granular. It’s why we, as Adams County’s economic development professionals, dedicated about two years, several years ago, to attending every one of the county’s 34 municipal meetings to touch base with local officials.
It’s also why we regularly connect with our economic development colleagues from across the state, to learn from each other, and to learn about similarities and synergies shared by our communities. Quite often, local practices blend into our regions. Our staff recently attended the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association’s fall conference in State College, and here were some of my top takeaways:
Economic development is local:
The economic diversity of Pennsylvania—with major anchors in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and their suburbs—contrast with large areas of rural lands and micropolitan centers. This means that Pennsylvania’s economic resiliency is locally driven and regionally supported. It is the marriage of local planning and vision with that of state strategies, tools and resources that drives a strong and dynamic economic landscape.
Economic development roles have expanded:
Local economic development organizations play pivotal roles in their communities. Core and traditional areas of focus include business retention and expansion, site selection, economic development financing and a range of “other duties as assigned” at the request of community stakeholders. Now, our organizations are also involved in a much broader range of issues including workforce development, infrastructure (transportation, water/sewer, and broadband), redevelopment, diversity, equity and inclusion strategies, plus affordable housing.
Land and labor are tied to economic development:
Two key areas for economic growth, land and labor, are both scarce and changing in many parts of the Commonwealth. New and innovative ideas must be considered to achieve and maintain vibrant and growing economies fueled by strong local businesses and their employees. A few of the ways we think about this in Adams County include:
• Continuing to focus on business retention and expansion by upskilling through career exploration, creating career pathways, and encouraging the deployment of capital to drive automation and innovation.
• Prioritizing reinvesting in existing infrastructure such as roads, water, sewer, and broadband to reuse, recycle and improve these vital connections—while also redeveloping brownfields and vacant sites.
• Being vigilant about the preservation of farmland, forested land, and natural recreational space.
• Supporting entrepreneurship through a dynamic mix of small, diverse, and locally owned businesses.
• Continuing full engagement with @Home in Adams County to align changing household compositions and the relationship to workforce needs, a livable income, housing for all and the availability of transportation.
During this season of thanks and giving, I am grateful to all community and business leaders who play pivotal roles on our boards, support our organization by being investors, and partner with us in meaningful, innovative ways. Our local quality of life here in Adams County ties into many of the priorities set, partnerships forged, and decisions made through the Alliance—through economic development that is constantly evolving and striving. It’s a labor of love, locally.
Robin Fitzpatrick is President of Adams Economic Alliance, which comprises three organizations:
The Adams County Economic Development Corporation (ACEDC), the Adams County Industrial Development Authority (ACIDA) and the Adams County General Authority (ACGA). Follow us on Twitter (@AdamsAlliance), Facebook (Facebook.com/AdamsAlliance) and LinkedIn (Adams Economic Alliance).
This article originally published in the Gettysburg Times, November 10, 2022.