Economic Development Strategic Planning: Tips for Wyoming’s Economic Developers

31 May 2022


Economic development strategic planning is a necessary process for economic developers seeking sustained growth for their communities. Identifying the unique needs of your community, the assets you have in place and what is necessary to support future growth is all part of that process. As is, pulling the data together to make it easier to apply for grants, recruit new businesses and seek investment. Still, the process can be challenging and it’s difficult to know how to start. The below tips will provide a roadmap to help you get started. 

Economic Development Strategic Planning Tips

Before you can create a strategic plan, it’s important to identify who will participate in the planning process. Identify your stakeholders (a group of 8-16 is ideal) and make sure that they represent a broad group of community members, businesses, the education sector, non-profits, faith organizations, workforce development and government officials. Their broad perspectives will add value throughout the process and help you to get widespread support for your future plans. With your group identified, here are some ways to start your strategic plan. 

#1 Adopt a Framework for Your Strategic Plan

The framework will guide the process and make it easier to move from one aspect of the plan to the other. 

One framework idea is to include your ‘why’, strategies, what you’re trying to accomplish, the process for how you will do it, and how you will measure results. 

Other organizations prefer economic development frameworks that include regional history and background information, a needs assessment, the internal capacity to meet those needs, what resources and funding will be necessary to meet needs, and a plan for how to do so. 

Your process should be a reflection of your community’s priorities and what matters most to your stakeholders. 

#2 Gather Data 

Data gathering is a key component of strategic planning. We recommend gathering demographic data, but also getting data from major employers, the educational sector and workforce development, for example. Data could be gathered during BR&E visits and should include information on the needs and plans of local businesses, etc. 

Data can also include:

  • An asset inventory
  • Community profile (demographics)
  • Major employers list
  • Workforce development program list

#3 Determine What Makes Your Community Unique

A SWOT analysis should be conducted to determine your community’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This will help you to identify your unique assets and opportunities for growth while also making it clear what obstacles could get in your way. Knowing this will allow you to make plans to address those obstacles or challenges through the strategic planning process. 

#4 Develop a Vision to Know Where Your Community Is Going

What vision do you and your group of stakeholders have for the future of your community? Economic Development Strategic Plans should look five years into the future so start with your destination. Where do you want to be in five years? Once you know that, you can identify the programming and solutions necessary to get you there. 

Your vision could include five-year plans for the following:

  • Number of jobs created 
  • Business retention
  • Infrastructure
  • Education
  • Workforce development
  • Quality of life projects
  • Housing
  • Site/product development
  • And anything else that is important to your community!

#5 Identify the Programs that Can Help You Achieve Your Vision

You need to know where you are going but once you do, it’s important to identify how you will get there. It’s like a family vacation, you can’t reach the destination without booking your mode of transportation and doing a great deal of packing and planning. Identify the programs you have in place today that will help you to achieve your goals. Then, identify the gaps where new programming would need to be implemented.

Once you have the programs identified, be specific on how you will use each one to help accomplish your goals. What is the specific role that the program, organization, or person (role) will play?

#6 Plan to Act

Knowing what you want and the programs in place to help you get it is the foundation for your plan. But, now you need to plan to act. In other words, what will it take to move from the planning process to the implementation phase? Do you have the right team in place? Do you have the funding? Is the community support there? Identify anything that you will need to physically act on your plan and prepare to go get it. 

During this step, make sure you are also prioritizing. It may not be possible to act on each of the items today, but perhaps you could start on something and then complete more of your plan as additional funding comes in, etc. 

#7 Finalize and Share Your Report

The community can help you to achieve the economic vision if you include them in the process. Hold town halls, host virtual meetings and bring your entire community into the process by sharing the economic development strategic plan with them. If you need help in certain areas, be specific in asking for it. Show them how their support and participation can help to improve the community overall. 

Begin Your Economic Development Strategic Planning Today

Realize your community’s economic vision tomorrow by starting the strategic planning today. On an ongoing basis remember to measure outcomes and update your plan in order to stay relevant.