Learnings from the Ohio Basic Economic Development Course

A lifelong student with a love of learning, I jump at chances to attend conferences and training sessions. That's why I was thrilled when my boss suggested I take the 2016 Ohio Basic Economic Development Course (OBEDC) given last month by the Ohio Economic Development Association.This "basic course," as it is known in #EconDev circles, is offered by many states annually as an intensive, accredited training for economic developers and community leaders. Since FH works with many economic development organizations (EDOs), it made sense for me to get smarter about the field and figure out how we can best serve our clients.

So, What Were My Key Learnings From The OBEDC?

  • The overall content and format were terrific. We had two and a half days packed with two-hour sessions where a speaker or panel of speakers would teach us about specific aspects of economic development. The presenters did a great job keeping things interesting and even bringing life to topics like finance (which, I'll admit, was not my favorite session - through no fault of the speaker!)
  • Several presenters talked about how we are all one Ohio and must work together in tandem to build the state's economy rather than competing with other regions. Our communities' true competition is in North Carolina or Indiana, not in Ohio.
  • One of my big takeaways from the conference was that community development is an essential but often overlooked part of economic development. A healthy community is a foundational must-have before business attraction, retention and expansion is even possible. And community engagement and health affects everyone, from residents to businesses to civic leaders. Yet it certainly seems to me - both based on the OBEDC course I attended and on our work in the economic development space - that EDOs could do a better job with community development and engagement.
  • We had several sessions on strategic planning and, based on a show of hands plus anecdotal feedback, it would appear that strategic planning is an area where EDOs can improve significantly. What's more, even when communities have a comprehensive strategic plan, all too often it does not include a solid marketing or communications plan. Which brings me to my next point¢€¦
  • There is a huge need for EDOs to do marketing and PR better! We saw a few examples of communities and regions doing a great job - such as Team NEO in northeast Ohio and all of the cool things they are doing with inbound marketing. On the whole, though, it would seem that many economic development entities would do well to work with a PR firm that understands economic development and can help develop strategic marketing communications plans and then assist with implementation. Marketing and PR seem to be much-needed opportunities for growth for most EDOs. For example, social media and blogger outreach were barely mentioned in the long session on marketing for EDOs. I'd recommend both of these as key marketing program elements for any economic development entity.
  • Speaking of social media, I thought OEDA did a great job facilitating the course, but I was sorry to see there was no official hashtag for those of us trying to follow along and engage (both with other attendees and with OEDA itself) on Twitter. An official hashtag is a must for future OEDBC courses, and including the live Twitter stream on one of the presentation screens would allow speakers to engage with audience members in real time.

Overall, the course was terrific and I would highly recommend it for anyone involved in economic development. Attending the OBEDC course was beneficial for me and I know it will help us better serve our economic development clients.What was the last conference or training that you attended, and your top takeaway? We'd love to hear! Let us know in the comments below or over on Facebook.