Next challenge for EDAWN: Tracking results

Now that a year-long effort to identify the direction of economic development in the Reno-Sparks area is finished, the next job begins tracking the strategy to determine if it works.

In at least part of that work, the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada apparently will be breaking new ground as it seeks to quantify the social benefits that accompany new employers in the region.

Some 400 people about 100 more than anyone predicted heard executives of EDAWN and its consulting firm, Angelou-Economics, roll out a plan that targets six target industries for future growth last Wednesday.

A few hours later, the folks who led the presentation gathered around a conference table at EDAWN's Reno headquarters to talk about how they'll determine whether the strategy is successful.

Chuck Alvey, the president and chief executive officer of EDAWN, said the agency already plans to bring Angelos Angelou, founder and CEO of the consulting firm, back to northern Nevada to deliver an annual report card on the region's progress.

Those report cards, Angelou said, will look at specific economic development measures as well as the community's work to make itself more attractive to entrepreneurs and corporate site selectors.

Some of the factors he'll watch don't lend themselves to easy counting.

AngelouEconomics emphasizes, for instance, that development of an entrepreneurial climate fueled by young professionals is probably the single most important step that northern Nevada can take. But short of counting memberships in young professionals groups and watching the redevelopment of downtown areas where young entrepreneurs like to live and work, measurement is difficult.

In the meantime, EDAWN will closely monitor the effectiveness of six experts educators, mostly that it brought under contract as rainmakers to deliver leads about companies that might be pursued by the economic development agency.

The industries targeted by EDAWN include software development, business and financial services, clean energy, advanced manufacturing, advanced logistics and life sciences.

Alvey said the measurement of that work is simple: Counting the number of leads and tracking whether they turn into anything substantial.

EDAWN already uses a sophisticated software program to tabulate the first-year economic impact of companies that decide to launch new facilities or expand existing operations in northern Nevada.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, EDAWN said 46 new and expanding companies generated $330 million in economic impact, and the group's board watches those numbers closely as it sets annual goals for the EDAWN staff.

That level of tracking is relatively rare among economic agencies nationwide, said Ben Loftsgaarden, a project manager with the consulting firm.

And EDAWN will break new ground nationwide as it develops systems to track the social and other non-financial contributions of new and expanding businesses in the region.

That's part of what EDAWN executives dub "Economic Development Plus" an effort to recruit companies that enhance the region's quality of life even as they generate new employment.

Among the factors that will be tracked are companies' wage packages particularly important as housing costs rose much more quickly that wages in recent years along with their benefits packages, their collaborations with higher education, their technology-based programs and their environmentally friendly programs.

"This is clearly an EDAWN innovation," said Angelou, whose firm works with economic development groups across the nation.

The implications of tracking social benefits are potentially widespread, said Loftsgaarden.

As EDAWN reports the average social-benefit scores of new employers in the region, for instance, existing companies may feel subtle pressure to improve their own performance on those measures.

Consistent reporting of EDAWN's performance will be key to maintaining enthusiasm for the fine-tuned economic strategy known as Target 2010, Alvey said.

"We learned how well things are going," Alvey said of the year-long strategy session. "But we also learned how much there is to do."


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