Sometimes all it takes to jump-start a community is a little teamwork. This principle helped two organizations on opposite coasts garner national recognition for their economic development efforts.
Brea Redevelopment Agency in Brea, California, and Virginia's Region 2000 in Lynchburg, Virginia, recently won first-place Economic Development Achievement awards (Eddies) in the Public-Private Partnership category. Sponsored by Business Facilities magazine, the award recognizes ongoing efforts that demonstrate innovation and creativity.
"In the early 1980s, we had two dips in employment after seeing steady increases through the 1970s," says Jeff Taylor, program manager for Virginia's Region 2000. The dips were especially alarming because they came while the rest of the country was growing.
Instead of competing against one another to reverse the trend, economic development officials from seven communities in a 2,000-square-mile area joined forces to create Virginia's Region 2000. The result has been growth for the entire region, especially small businesses, says Taylor.
For Robert Roberts, the benefits were more attitudinal. His 6-year-old firm, Electronic Design & Manufacturing, started in an incubator partially funded by Region 2000. When Roberts was ready to grow, economic development officials came to him.
"They showed me the economic advantages of staying in Lynchburg and what sites were available," says Roberts. City developers helped Roberts find what he needed and even worked with him to develop it.
In Brea, California, the city's redevelopment agency focused on rebuilding a downtown it saw as outdated and underutilized. While redeveloping the city's main drag-Brea Boulevard-officials worked with merchants to ensure they could remain in the area, says Eric Nicoll, redevelopment services manager.
"That led to the Brea Commerce Center Project, which we won the Eddie for," says Nicoll. "We worked with businesses to exchange their property for [sites] on a lot the city owned."
In addition to the land swap, Brea helped the merchants design and build their new locations and, during road construction, funded a marketing project to prevent sales from dipping.
"Before redevelopment, our Brea store was the smallest and quietest of the three [we owned]," says Tim Brundige, co-owner of Brundige Glass Inc. "Then as housing was built and we got new residents, the volume and size of the store increased dramatically,"
Brundige says the key was meeting with redevelopment officials to communicate his needs and concerns. And in this case, as in Virginia, joining forces made all the difference.
-Cynthia E. Griffin