CEDS Spotlight: Land of Sky Regional Council

The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) has the potential to be a true road map that brings together many voices from your region to form a common vision for economic prosperity and resilience.  Through the CEDS Spotlight case studies series, the NADO Research Foundation is highlighting best practices and innovative elements of CEDS planning, development, and implementation from EDDs and other regional development organizations across the country.

As Western North Carolina begins to face major population growth in the upcoming decades, the Land of Sky Regional Council saw an opportunity to develop a new framework when designing its 2015 CEDS that would speak to the issues facing the region in the metro area and surrounding rural communities.  It is anticipated that by 2040, the regional population will grow by over 40% – or an additional 176,000 people – many of whom are 65 and older and are buying second homes or retiring in the area.  This population boom and influx of seniors brings opportunities for improving economic and workforce development outcomes, but also creates new challenges for maintaining a high quality of life for all residents.

As a result, Land of Sky staff “decided to develop a new approach and completely revise the CEDS process, framework, and product,” says Erica Anderson, Director of Economic and Community Development.  “The process was designed as a strategic way to achieve greater participation from a broad group of stakeholders, elected officials, and local government staff.”  The result is a CEDS document that is highly readable and visual, and contains county-level facts sheets, case studies of projects underway, and concise implementation strategies and goals.  The response to the new CEDS has been positive from member governments, state and federal agencies, the public, and other organizational partners.

A major influence on Land of Sky’s 2015 CEDS development process was NC Tomorrow’s 2014 report, North Carolina Regional and Statewide Strategies for Comprehensive Community and Economic DevelopmentNC Tomorrow is a statewide effort of the North Carolina Association of Regional Councils with the support of the US Economic Development Administration, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the North Carolina Department of Commerce.  Land of Sky’s 2015 CEDS follows four overarching goals identified in the NC Tomorrow Report.  These were building on regional competitive advantages; establishing and maintaining robust regional infrastructure; creating revitalized, healthy, and vibrant communities; and developing talented and innovative people.  The CEDS contains goals, strategies, timelines, and designates responsible entities for achieving implementation.  Aligning these goals “was a strategic decision with the intent that as the CEDS and its identified projects are developed locally or regionally, they would in turn make the statewide strategy stronger with meaningful metrics,” says Land of Sky’s Anderson.

Land of Sky’s CEDS also embraces many elements of the updated EDA CEDS Content Guidelines, released in early 2015.  In particular, the CEDS addresses the topic of economic resilience and how sector diversification can help protect and strengthen the regional economy, including focusing on areas such as tourism, advanced manufacturing, education, and health care.  From the document: “A goal of this CEDS is to identify where investment can be made to further diversify the region’s economic base. Creating local value-chains and industries will result in stronger local economies and therefore, economically resilient regions.”

Finally, Land of Sky’s CEDS is one of the first in the country to incorporate principles of the WealthWorks economic development model.  WealthWorks is a locally-driven approach that builds multiple forms of wealth, promotes the regional ownership and control of assets, and authentically includes low-income communities in the process.  Says Anderson: “The CEDS incorporates WealthWorks metrics to provide a holistic, value-proposition approach to economic and community development.  This is the first step in a long-term process in building and measuring change through demand-driven solutions.”

Land of Sky's CEDS is highly readable and visual, and contains county-level facts sheets, case studies of projects underway, and concise implementation strategies and goals.
Land of Sky’s CEDS is highly readable and visual, and contains county-level facts sheets, case studies of projects underway, and concise implementation strategies and goals.

An interview with Erica Anderson,
Director of Economic and Community Development:

What does the CEDS mean to your region? How has it helped shape the conversation about regional economic development?

The Land of Sky CEDS has become a framework for regional economic development discussions.  Partner organizations and local governments are using it as a guide to project development.  It has led to new partnerships and networks that leverage programming. A recent example is the WestNGN Broadband Project, and subsequent Regional Broadband Project which focuses on rural connectivity.

How have you incorporated the concept of resilience into your CEDS?

Resilience in our area has predominantly focused on environmental mitigation such as landslides and flooding.  The CEDS provides a platform for prioritizing economic impacts on our region and we have just begun regional resiliency discussions with the intent of more inclusive, concrete priorities.

What ways have you developed and nurtured partnerships with both traditional partners and underrepresented groups?

We have been intentional in building relationships with non-traditional partners in the region.  One-on-one discussions and small groups have been meeting to identify common priorities and ways we can assist under-represented populations meet their own goals. These partnerships take time and are leading to more inclusive, robust programming.  We are excited about building upon these new relationships to see where we can make lasting impact.  Some of these partners include small business minority groups, medically high-risk populations (served by Community Care of Western North Carolina), rural communities and farmers, and others.

How have you taken your CEDS process from planning to implementation? Any strong examples?

The CEDS was revised in 2015 and we are two years into implementation. A notable example includes the WestNGN Broadband Project, a collective effort of six municipalities, universities, nonprofits, and community stakeholders to attract high gigabit broadband investment into the region.  Another example is the creation of a network of innovative sectors to address gaps in a skilled workforce, shared services, and greater opportunities for rural economic opportunities.  A third example is the continued assistance to regional entities for economic development opportunities. We are currently assisting Buncombe County, Town of Black Mountain, and many other partners to secure infrastructure and access road funding for Avadim Technologies, a medical product manufacturer. They are expanding and will create 550 jobs at an average wage of over $45,000, higher than our current regional average.

Click to download Land of Sky's 2015-2019 CEDS (PDF)
Click here to download Land of Sky’s 2015-2019 CEDS (PDF)

Download Land of Sky’s 2015-2019 CEDS here (PDF)

Want to learn more about Land of Sky’s CEDS?  Contact Erica Anderson, Director of Economic and Community Development, at: [email protected] or 828.251.6622

Click here to access additional case studies in the CEDS Spotlight series

Do you have a best practice or innovative approach to developing, designing, and implementing the CEDS?  Contact NADO RF Program Manager Brett Schwartz at  [email protected].

This case studies series is presented through NADO’s Stronger CEDS, Stronger Regions program, funded through a generous grant from the US Economic Development Administration.

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