Volume 6, Number 1 – March 2009

Partnering with Politicians: A How-To Guide

With the new economic recovery package and investment dollars flowing out of Washington, lots of economic development organizations have geared up to access new sources of Federal funds.   For a while, it seemed like I was getting daily calls with the same basic request:  “Who do I talk to on Capitol Hill if I want to access stimulus money?”  While I try to be helpful, it’s also true that if you’re asking that question, you may already be too late in terms of developing an effective strategy for accessing funds.

These episodes are symptomatic of a larger pattern that I often see among economic development organizations.  They only reach out to elected officials—especially state and Federal legislators—when they want something:  passage of a bill, a grant, or other forms of support.   While most politicians do try to help their constituents in these cases, economic development organizations would be more successful if they approached politicians less as a customer or constituent and more like a partner. 

Becoming a partner requires a different approach.  It involves regular interaction with Senators, Representatives, and their staffs.  You should invite them to key meetings, to tour local facilities and organizations, and to participate in your activities.  Provide them with updates, via press releases, blogs, and other means, on what’s happening with your organization.

At the same time, effective partnering requires that your organization provide something of value to elected officials.  Economic developers have particular strengths in two areas of interest to politicians:  access to supporters and access to information.   Your connections with local businesses provide you with unique insights on what’s happening with your local economy.  Elected officials, especially those in Washington, are hungry for this kind of detailed, real-life information on what’s happening with local business owners. 

You can tap these resources in several ways.  You might consider convening regular meetings of local business owners with elected officials and their staffs.  These sessions, which might resemble Presidential “listening tours,” offer a tool for officials to test the “pulse” of local business owners.  

A second approach utilizes regular mini-polls of your members, partners, or business customers.  Thanks to web survey tools like Survey Monkey and Zoomerang, it’s easy and inexpensive to set up short surveys that address key issues like business satisfaction with the local business climate, or even whether local firms plan to hire in the coming year.

Finally, you might consider producing our own “State of Region” reports that track the performance of the local economy.  This type of research is invaluable to elected officials, and it also helps brand you and your organization as an expert on what’s happening with the local economy.   The analysis can range from a simple review of existing economic data to a more full-blown benchmarking exercise.

When you embrace this partnering approach, you need to be in it for the long haul.  But, the benefits can be significant.  You will be able to build strong alliances with key officials, improve your access to outside support, and also help build better name recognition for your organization. 

What’s New at EntreWorks Consulting?

New Articles: 

It’s been a busy few months on the report-writing front.  New articles and reports in the EntreWorks Library are listed below.

EntreWorks has been involved in a major evaluation effort for the State of Maine, and has helped produce two reports that offer a comprehensive look at how Maine’s economic development program are faring. 

In addition to these research reports, Erik Pages has published several articles in past few months.  They include: