Aligning Strategies to Maximize Impact: Case Studies on Transportation and Economic Development

Posted on: October 10th, 2012 by Carrie Kissel

Report cover with truck driving on rural road, group of individuals at a groundbreaking ceremony, and a wind turbine in an open field.The NADO Research Foundation is pleased to announce the release of the report Aligning Strategies to Maximize Impact: Case Studies on Transportation and Economic Development (PDF).  This report features 10 case studies from 11 states, where regional planning and economic development organizations are taking steps to coordinate planning processes and investment strategies, partner with new entities to improve outreach and and implementation, document progress through metrics, and communicate results in an engaging way.

Projects from regional organizations across the United States demonstrate how the fields of transportation and economic development can complement each other and create an environment for increased collaboration and aligning of resources. Achieving multiple goals with a single project offers significant benefits as budget concerns continue to impact regional planning.

In particular, this report examines transportation planning through the lens of economic development and the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), a regional economic development plan. In 2011, the NADO Board of Directors adopted Peer Standards of Excellence for Economic Development Administration (EDA)-designated Economic Development Districts (EDDs). These principles, developed by NADO members, are intended to make the CEDS a more effective tool, beyond a compliance plan needed to access EDA funds. The Standards of Excellence promote a strategic planning and implementation framework that is results-oriented; focused on aligning and leveraging resources; inclusive of public, private, and nonprofit sector leaders; and emphasizes the importance of asset-based regional economic development.

The seven principles of CEDS Standards of Excellence are:

  1. Build resilient regions and capitalize on assets.
    Build more resilient economies and communities by focusing and targeting regional strategies on the existing and potential competitive advantages of each individual region.
  2. Align plans and investments.
    Foster a regional collaborative framework to strategically align public sector investments from federal, state, and local sources, as well as private, nonprofit, and philanthropic partners.
  3. Focus on data and analysis.
    Use modern scenario, data, and analysis tools and planning techniques that provide policy makers, stakeholders, and the public with evidence-based and factual based information.
  4. Link strategies and outcomes.
    Transform the CEDS process into a more strategy-driven planning process focused on regional visioning, priorities setting, and performance outcomes, rather than a broad-based encyclopedia or narrative of the region with a laundry list of random projects and programs.
  5. Increase collaboration among regions.
    Promote and support peer reviews and exchanges of Economic Development District planning professionals and policy officials with the goal of increasing collaboration across EDD boundaries, enhancing organizational resources, and positioning regional CEDS as more effective building blocks for statewide and local strategies.
  6. Adopt a communications strategy.
    Communicate in a compelling and modern communication style, including use of executive summaries, high quality print and online media, and social media.
  7. Collaborate on plans and implementation.
    Engage the public, private, nonprofit and educational sectors, along with the general public, in the development and implementation of the CEDS.

A previous NADO Research Foundation report from April 2009 examined another element of the interaction between transportation and the CEDS. Role of Transportation Planning
in the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Process presented the results of a national scan of EDDs to determine the extent to which transportation is incorporated into the CEDS. This report, Aligning Strategies to Maximize Impact provides more detail on collaboration among organizations and implementation of projects that create opportunities for linking transportation investments with economic development objectives.

Although the seven core principles of the Standards of Excellence were created with regard to the development and implementation of the CEDS, they also apply to broader regional planning processes, including transportation planning. As the case studies in this report show, investments in transportation promote numerous other goals outside of mobility, notably economic development efforts. A safe, efficient, and reliable transportation network provides essential infrastructure for a robust regional economy.

The most recent reauthorization of federal surface transportation funding reflects the increasing recognition of transportation as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), signed into law in July 2012, emphasizes performance and outcome-based transportation planning that makes progress towards seven national goals, including freight movement and economic vitality. (1) Performance goals for improving passenger mobility are also embedded in the restructuring of several national programs with increased support for multimodal investments.

This report features 10 case studies on diverse transportation and economic development topics such as freight movement, cluster development, ridesharing, and project prioritization.  RDOs in these 11 states are implementing initiatives with regional impact. Each case also includes valuable takeaway lessons that can serve as a resource to others hoping to promote a stronger link between transportation and economic development strategies. Throughout the report, the best practice themes embodied in the CEDS Standards of Excellence are identified where they appear in these case studies as applied to transportation as well as economic development.

Read the full report at

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