Last week, I had the pleasure of assisting with the faciliaton of a forum sponsored by the National Association of Development Organizations and focused on how to improve the US Economic Development Administration’s CEDS (Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Process) process. EDA rules require that all of its grantees complete a CEDS study to ensure that Federally funded projects are tied to a wider regional development strategy. When first used in the 1960s, the concept of regional planning was quite new and not well understood. So, it made sense to mandate creation of a regional plan. Today, the creation of regional strategic plans is the norm in most communities, and the CEDS process is one of many approaches to regional planning. Over time, the CEDS process has become something more like a bureaucratic exercise, proving less useful for providing useful strategic guidance. Both sides—EDA and its grantees—agree that the process needs to be fixed so that, in the words of EDA Assistant Secretary John Fernandez, we “put strategy back into the CEDS process.”
Last week’s Forum brought together key EDA officials and some of the leading regional development organizations from across the US. All participants agreed that a reformed process needs to be more flexible and less prescriptive. In other words, regions should be allowed and encouraged to develop plans that reflect their unique assets and competitive advantages. Where possible, the CEDS process should support that effort instead of requiring adherence to unnecessary Federal rules and guidelines. EDA is currently involved in a rewrite of rules for the CEDS process, and NADO’s membership is similarly engaged in a process to develop guiding principles for effective regional planning. The goal is to create a process that does more than ensure eligiblity for EDA grants—instead, the CEDS process can serve as the foundation for a wider strategic effort that helps communities develop action plans in a more cost-effective and innovative manner. These joint efforts are just underway and additional details on the processes should be available in the near future. You’ll be able to learn more at this blog and at both the EDA and NADO websites.