Economic Development Districts deliver an increasingly complex and wide-ranging suite of services to the localities that they serve, so much so that it is sometimes difficult for board members, elected officials, partners, and other stakeholders to keep track of the full scope of those services. While most EDDs produce annual impact reports, they often struggle to balance between readability and complexity, and breadth and specificity. As a result, member municipalities may not always fully appreciate the impact of their annual EDD dues. Until recently, the East Texas Council of Governments (ETCOG) had struggled with this challenge. “I have served as executive director of this organization for 15 years,” says ETCOG Executive Director David Cleveland. “During that time, the one consistent message I have heard from elected officials and citizens alike is ‘Until we got involved, we absolutely had no idea all that ETCOG does for us and for our 14-county region.’”
In response to the challenge of demonstrating regional impact, ETCOG now delivers a region-wide Solutions Report as well as customized reports to all fifteen counties that it serves. The mixed-media Solutions Reports include an ‘At-a-Glance’ style hard copy that is mailed with each dues statement to members as well as a link to the full online report which goes into depth and specificity on every ETCOG service provided to each locality. Care is taken to make sure that the reports are delivered in plain language and are data-filled, interactive, and colorful. Moreover, they are archived on the ETCOG’s website so that readers can go back and see a multi-year overview of the services they’ve received. The reports are also complemented by a “Year in Review” video hosted online.
While the Solutions Reports originally required significant effort to create, ETCOG has worked to streamline the sharing of information between departments to make sure that the data is available and clearly categorized. Staff have found that the Solutions Reports are useful not just as a communications tool, but also as an internal way to gauge their impact on each locality they serve. “Developing the system was a tremendous effort, but now that we have a system it will be much easier year after year to keep doing it,” says Cleveland. Because grant funders and state and federal partners already require similar reports and performance data, the return on investment of simply converting it to the Solutions Reports format has been very high.
The Solutions Reports highlight many of the projects and initiatives identified in the region’s CEDS, including the deployment of a $375,000 U.S. EDA broadband planning grant that has led to the development of an East Texas Broadband Strategic Plan. Developing these reports also meet the CEDS goal of “Foster[ing] a discussion between the public and private players in education, business, and the workforce” as these reports are shared throughout the region to highlight how the COG and EDD is collaborating with key partners, including Workforce Solutions East Texas and the Area Agency on Aging of East Texas.
ETCOG has heard consistently positive feedback since implementing the Annual Solutions Reports and continues to refine and expand them each year. “If you can’t demonstrate the value of your organization, you’re in trouble,” Cleveland explains. “This isn’t icing on the cake, this is at the core of what you should be doing.” By documenting and publishing the results of their work, ETCOG annually reinforces the importance of its role in promoting regional economic development and improved quality of life for East Texas residents. Click here to view the ETCOG Solutions Report and Year in Review video.
This case study was written by Dion Thompson-Davoli, NADO RF Research Fellow
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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.
Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.
McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.