CEDS Spotlight: River Valley Regional Commission

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.

Inspired by the possibilities offered in EDA’s CEDS Content Guidelines, staff at the River Valley Regional Commission (RVRC) sought to develop a CEDS that would be visual, engaging, and tell the story of their diverse region in West Central Georgia.  “We really heard EDA staff when they said they wanted the CEDS to be innovative and user-friendly,” says Jim Livingston, Community and Economic Development Director at RVRC.  “We also heard our communities that said they didn’t want something overly technical and intimidating.”  Recognizing that they didn’t have anyone on staff with the graphic design skills to create the type of printed document they wanted, RVRC looked into other options to meet their vision for a new kind of CEDS.

Enter Esri’s Story Maps.  Story Maps are online applications that can be built to share information through text, maps, photos, videos, charts, and more.  They are meant to be easy to make and easy to navigate and have been created to showcase topics ranging from transportation infrastructure to architectural heritage to public health indicators to even the history of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Government agencies, non-profits, museums, schools, and many other entities have used Story Maps to feature their work and research.  This template-based online platform seemed a natural fit to serve as the home for River Valley’s 2017 CEDS.  “Using off-the-shelf software that seamlessly worked on any device, yet was able to use mapping, video, and imagery to help convey the plan allowed us to push our ability to innovate and provide a plan that was robust, but accessible,” says Livingston.

Readers of RVRC’s Story Map-enhanced CEDS are able to scroll seamlessly through multiple sections, which are well-organized and supplemented with maps, images, and videos.  The site is economical with the amount of text and data provided; those wanting additional information about regional economic and social data, SWOT analysis entries, survey responses, action plans, and more can clink on hyperlinks that provide PDF documents with more detail.  Presenting the material in this format “allowed us to link the deep dive we took with the CEDS process, but maintain a simple user-friendly interface that any elected official or interested citizen could access,” says Livingston.

Readers of RVRC’s Story Map-enhanced CEDS are able to scroll seamlessly through multiple sections, which are well-organized and supplemented with maps, images, and videos.
Readers of RVRC’s Story Map-enhanced CEDS are able to scroll seamlessly through multiple sections, which are well-organized and supplemented with maps, images, and videos.

It was critical that the CEDS represented the broad socio-economic diversity of the region and demonstrated the mix of issues that are important to different parts of the 16 counties which are comprised of cities, small towns, and rural areas.  Case in point: RVRC’s service region includes Columbus (the second largest city in Georgia and home to three Fortune 1000 companies), as well as a county ranked the fifth poorest in the country.  RVRC staff knew that for the CEDS to gain traction and be of value, residents, elected officials, businesses, and others all had to see themselves reflected in the plan.

River Valley’s CEDS was able to meet this goal because it draws on the knowledge and insight of local residents and leaders.  An online survey garnered over 250 responses that were reviewed and analyzed by geographic area in four different ways to ensure that regional differences were respected and incorporated into the final CEDS.  The survey revealed different priorities in the urban core (Columbus), Rural Centers (Cordele and Americus), and rural areas and the CEDS clearly notes these various preferences and needs across localities.  In an effort to build on local efforts already underway, the CEDS seeks to complement existing plans and initiatives, such as the Columbus 2025 economic development plan, the One Sumter initiative, and Grow Randolph initiative.  As the CEDS notes, “These plans serve as models for self-reliance and economic resiliency, and their findings underpin this Regional CEDS.”

No hard copy of River Valley’s 2017 CEDS exists – it all lives online in both the Story Map and the accompanying linked pages with additional data. However, a one-pager has been designed for staff to share at meetings or events to direct readers to the Story Map website to learn more.  The response has been overwhelmingly positive from stakeholders in the region who have embraced this new digital platform to access information to generate conversation about the future of West Central Georgia.

River Valley’s experience can serve as inspiration for other economic development districts that are serious about exploring new, interactive platforms for their CEDS but may feel they don’t have the in-house expertise to do so. “Overall, the Story Map has been a great program for us.  It is super easy to use, as simple as PowerPoint,” Jim Livingston says.  Simply put: Don’t let a lack of staff design expertise or the belief that it takes a lot of money to make a visual, interactive CEDS get in the way of pursuing something new and innovative for your region’s CEDS.

An online survey garnered over 250 responses in the region that were reviewed and analyzed by geographic area in four different ways to ensure that regional differences were respected and incorporated into the CEDS.
An online survey garnered over 250 responses in the region that were reviewed and analyzed by geographic area in four different ways to ensure that regional differences were respected and incorporated into the CEDS.

An Interview with Jim Livingston, Community and Economic Development Director, River Valley Regional Commission

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

Our regional CEDS is shaped by our conversations about economic development in the region and reflects the desire and wishes of our communities by mirroring their own local economic development plans. Our region is varied; Columbus serves as headquarters for several Fortune 1000 companies and Ft. Benning is a major regional employer.  But much of our region is very rural and very poor with limited investment or opportunities. One document could not fit all of the economic development needs of our region.

We had two ways our local conversations are reflected in the CEDS about economic development in the region. First was through survey response. Our online survey was fairly typical, but we were able to separate out responses based on geography, therefore determining differences in preferences and perceptions of strength and weaknesses for Columbus compared to other areas in the region.  The second was to work with our local economic developers and dig into and understand their excellent existing plans they have created to make sure our regional plan captures and reflects all the work they have done.  Our plan reflects these local efforts, and through our ongoing working relationships and collaboration we can reinforce each other.

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

Because our CEDS was delivered exclusively online, we incorporated interactive maps and videos throughout the document. We were able to prominently embed the NADO resilience video which is a succinct articulation of both economic and natural disaster resilience. We also highlighted examples of disasters the region has experienced in the past as a reminder that these disasters can happen anywhere and anytime, but that we can recover from them with planning and preparation.

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

Our CEDS document, because it is designed to be viewed from a phone, computer, or any electronic device, takes a powerful and robust message, and simplifies it so it can easily be used by underrepresented groups. The format prioritizes a user-friendly interface, making a previously complex report simple and approachable. The simplicity of the Story Map delivery does not diminish from the robust and thorough research and work done for the CEDS, which can be viewed through links and data that can be accessed throughout the document.

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

Like most CEDS, we have our list of action items that we hope to achieve. Our most successful efforts to go from plan to implementation has been a desire to help further rural broadband in the region. This matches federal and state investments and we fully intend to work regionally to continue to implement our initiatives. First amongst them is a demand-based survey tool to help quantify our time and see where our residents within the region are getting online and what they are doing there. This will ultimately help drive the quest for investment and show a willingness to pay for it. We believe this survey process, as identified in our CEDS, is very timely and will greatly benefit the region.

  • View RVRC’s 2017 online CEDS here
  • Want to learn more about this CEDS?  Contact Jim Livingston, Community and Economic Development Director, at [email protected]
  • Click here to learn more about Esri Story Maps

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 Associate Director 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.

Search NADO.org

Contact Joe D'Antonio

Regional Development Researcher Andrew Coker joined the NADO team in March of 2023 after spending two and a half years as the Regional Economic Resiliency Coordinator at West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. Andrew holds a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

At NADO, Andrew conducts research on the newest economic and community development best practices from Economic Development Districts across the country. He helps produce easily digestible information on complex regional issues through case studies, tip sheets, and research reports. Andrew also hosts training and professional development opportunities including conference sessions and virtual webinars for member regional development organizations.

Andrew is one of our Missouri-based team members and enjoys reading and training for his next triathlon.

Jack Morgan came to the NADO team in 2022 after seven years with the National Association of Counties (NACo) as a Program and Senior Program Manager. Prior to NACo, Jack was a Policy Analyst for Friends of Southwest Virginia. Jack holds a bachelor’s in geography from Emory & Henry College and a master’s in geography from Appalachian State University.

As a NADO Senior Program Manager, Jack leads capacity-building and peer-learning work supporting energy communities in economic transition, regional resilience, and recreation economies. He also helps with the EDA-Austin training program Emerging Leaders.

Jack is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is a member of the American Planning Association (APA) in the Regional & Intergovernmental Planning division. He also serves on the Emory & Henry College Alumni Board.

Taking road trips, reading non-fiction, and indulging in top-notch barbecue and coffee round out Jack’s days. He loves maps, mountains, and of course, all things sports.

Karron Grant joined the NADO team in 2023 as Administrative Specialist and is the first face (or voice) you’ll see or hear when reaching out to NADO. As Administrative Specialist, Karron manages our database and coordinates NADO event operations. He ensures members’ needs are met, contact information stays current, and NADO’s office is running efficiently.

Karron came to NADO after four years in the classroom teaching at The New Century School and Old Mill Middle North where he received the Patriot of the Year award. He attended Towson University and the University of Maryland Global Campus and holds a bachelor’s in international studies and humanities.

Visiting art galleries and museums, playing basketball and bowling, and taking in movies and music are some of Karron’s interests and hobbies.

Deputy Executive Director Laurie Thompson has been with NADO for 25 years. Laurie helps keep the NADO and NADO Research Foundation wheels turning through management of the daily operations of the Research Foundation, securing financial resources and overseeing grants management, and helping execute NADO’s Annual Training Conference each year.

Laurie holds a bachelor’s in public affairs and government from Mount Vernon College and a master’s in health services administration from The George Washington University. Prior to NADO, Laurie spent time as a Field Specialist and an Eagle Staff Fund Director at First Nations Development Institute.

When she’s taking a rare reprieve from her NADO work, Laurie enjoys traveling domestically and internationally to visit friends and family.

Jamie McCormick joined the NADO team as a Policy Fellow first in 2019, then moved into her current role as Legislative Associate in 2021. As Legislative Associate, Jamie keeps NADO members apprised of any policy and regulatory issues and communicates NADO’s policy priorities to federal stakeholders and partner organizations. She is also the first stop for members with inquiries on policy issues. The planning and execution of NADO & DDAA’s annual Washington Conference is also managed by Jamie.

Jamie holds a dual bachelor’s in political science and international relations from The State University of New York College at Geneseo and a master’s in international development studies from The George Washington University. In addition to her roles at NADO, Jamie also worked as a Legislative Assistant for the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association.

Outside of her NADO work, Jamie is an active volunteer with the VOLO Kids Foundation and a fundraiser for YMCA youth programs. She is also NADO’s resident baker regularly providing treats for those in NADO’s D.C. office. Traveling, taking her pup on walks, and hiking in the northeast keep Jamie busy. 

Brett Schwartz began at NADO in 2012 as a Research Fellow after earning his J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The following year, he was promoted to Program Manager and has now been leading as an Associate Director since 2018. Brett is responsible for managing NADO’s Economic Development District Community of Practice (EDD CoP), as well as researching and monitoring the latest trends in regional economic development and resilience, including best practices for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). With more than a decade of experience on the NADO team, Brett is a dynamic relationship builder helping connect and build capacity among the national network of regional development organizations.

Brett also holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s from Trinity College Dublin, as well as a certificate in mediation training. He’s a member of Catalyst Grantmakers of San Diego and Imperial Counties and was a participant in the 2021-22 Field Trips to the Future Cohort.

Brett is one of NADO’s West Coast team members residing in San Diego, CA where he enjoys spending time outdoors, attending concerts and festivals, and soaking up life as a parent of two young children.  

Communications Manager Katie Allison joined the team in 2023 to lead the strategic communication efforts of NADO. Katie creates and develops print and online materials, communicates NADO’s updates to members via weekly emails, and maintains content for nado.org and NADO’s social media channels. She also works with different departments to generate new ideas and strategies to effectively describe and promote the important work NADO is doing for EDDs and RDOs across the country.

An experienced nonprofit communications professional, Katie has worked for organizations in western North Carolina for nearly a decade. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from Wingate University where she was a four-year student athlete. Katie has also completed Vision Henderson County, a comprehensive leadership development program that promotes informed and committed civic volunteerism.

Katie stays busy trying to keep up with her two young sons whom she enjoys exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains with. Traveling to new and favorite places and cheering on the Atlanta Braves are some of her family’s favorite pastimes.

Senior Program Manager Ciara Ristig has been a member of the NADO team since 2021, and helps with NADO’s EDD Community of Practice, EDD staff capacity building and other grants on a range of subjects, including equity and solar energy. Before NADO, Ciara worked as a Planner for the County of Santa Barbara and an Assistant Project Manager for REM Consult. Ciara holds a bachelor’s in urban studies and French from Bryn Mawr and a master’s in urban studies from Ecole d’Urbanisme de Paris.

When she’s not traveling, you can find her outrigger paddling and serving on the board of the Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama, CA, near her home base of Santa Barbara.

Carrie Kissel has been a member of the NADO team since 2005 when she began as a Research Fellow. She later moved into the roles of Program Manager in 2006, and then Associate Director in 2011. Carrie holds a bachelor’s in anthropology from Ball State University and a master’s in public anthropology from American University. As Associate Director, Carrie oversees NADO’s work in rural transportation and rural wealth creation. She provides technical assistance and support to rural regions on transportation and economic development issues and develops training and peer exchange events on transportation issues and rural wealth creation as an economic development strategy.

Carrie is a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and secretary of TRB’s Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council. She is also a member of the American Anthropological Association and the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

Reading, gardening, hiking, and kayaking are a few of Carrie’s hobbies, and she organizes and facilitates a DEI/social justice-focused book club in her community.

Melissa Levy has worked at NADO as a Regional Development Researcher since February 2023 and is the Principal Consultant at her own firm specializing in wealth-based economic development consulting. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, Melissa brings a breadth of knowledge to her role as a Regional Development Researcher. Melissa provides in-depth research, coaching, and training on regional economic resilience, rural wealth creation strategies, and economic development.

Melissa is a North American Food Systems Network trained AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion (ACRE) facilitator and a WealthWorks coach, facilitator, and trainer. In addition to her professional work, Melissa serves on the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Council, on the board of the Hinesburg Community Resource Center, and on the Hinesburg Economic Development Committee.

A true outdoorswoman, Melissa enjoys cross country and downhill skiing, paddleboarding, hiking, biking, and kayaking, as well as yoga, and teaching Tai Chi.

Program Manager Krishna Kunapareddy began her role with NADO in February of 2023 after 14 years of service at Boonslick Regional Planning Commission in Missouri. Krishna manages NADO Research Foundation’s Planning and Environmental Linkages and Center for Environmental Excellence projects. In addition to researching and writing, Krishna also conducts virtual workshops on innovative tools and techniques related to transportation planning.

She holds an undergraduate degree from Andhra University and a master’s from JNT University in India, as well as a master’s in city and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington. Krishna is also a certified Smart Cities Academy Practitioner and holds the Location Advantage certificate from geographic information system software company ESRI.

In her spare time, Krishna volunteers with Mentors4College helping high schoolers better plan for their post-high school paths. She is also a dedicated advocate for documented H4 Dreamers.

Krystal DeLeon joined the NADO team in October of 2020 as Database & Grants Manger, but in January of 2022 transitioned to her current role as Operations Manager. Krystal keeps NADO running through behind the scenes work of invoicing, solving any database issues that may arise, producing membership reports, and much more. Her organizational skills and thorough knowledge help the NADO team operate more efficiently across all departments.

Prior to NADO, Krystal was the Conference Services Coordinator for State Services Organization. She is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), a licensed realtor, and holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Liberty University. When she’s not keeping NADO’s operations in order, Krystal enjoys running and rock climbing, and adventuring with her husband and son.

Senior Program Manager Bret Allphin joined NADO in April of 2022 bringing with him a wealth of knowledge after a 20-year career with Buckeye Hills Regional Council in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to his bachelor’s in political science and master’s in public affairs, Bret is licensed Geographical Information Systems Professional (GISP). He is NADO’s go-to team member for all things mapping while also supporting members with transportation and economic development technical assistance services.

An avid sports aficionado and former collegiate athlete, Bret enjoys cheering on his Cincinnati Reds, hitting the trails on his mountain bike, and improving his golf game whenever possible. Bret is an involved community member in Marietta dedicating much of his spare time to serving on local nonprofit boards.

Contact Karron Grant

Applications cannot be saved and returned to at a later time. It is recommended you compile all of your information in advance in a word processor and cut and paste into the application below.

2023 Impact Awards

The primary applicant must be a NADO member. Project partners, both NADO and non-members, can be recognized under "Project Partners" below.

Primary Project Contact:
This person will be the designated point of contact for all future awards-related correspondence.

Organization Address

Project Location (if different from Organization Address)

Executive Director

Additional Organizational Information
Please upload your organization's logo which will be included on the winning project award certificate.

Project Information
This title will be printed on the award certificate for winning projects and in all 2022 NADO Impact Award materials and cannot be changed.

Project Summary & Questions
Please craft clear, thoughtful, and engaging responses to the following questions. Use the following sections to tell us how your project has made an impact, such as its use of creative funding mechanisms, efforts to create efficiencies or reduce costs, unique partnership models, and emphasis on building resilience and/or enhancing your region's quality of life.

For award-winning projects, the information provided below may be used verbatim to inform project descriptions that will be published in the 2023 NADO Impact Awards materials and included on the NADO website.

Please submit at least one photo showing your project in action. Please keep file size to a minimum (<2Mb) and use JPEG format. If uploading multiple files, ZIP files prior to submitting. If you have trouble uploading images they can be directly emailed to Brett Schwartz at [email protected]. Include the project title they correspond to in the subject line of your email.

Note: Submitted photos may be used in NADO Impact Awards materials and in other NADO published materials with credit to your organization. Please also consider submitting photos for NADO's 2023 Photo Contest, which will be held this summer.

Your application is not submitted until you are directed to a confirmation page. If you have any questions or are unsure if your application has been submitted, please contact Brett Schwartz at [email protected]

Contact Melissa Levy

Contact Krishna Kunapareddy

Contact Andrew Coker

Contact Lara Gale

Contact Katie Allison

Contact Jack Morgan

Content Questions Form

Registration Questions Form

Hotel Questions Form

New Speaker Inquiry

Job Listing Inquiry

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.

Contact Danny Tomares

Contact Dion Thompson-Davoli

Contact Ciara Ristig

Contact Bret Allphin

Contact Brett Schwartz

Contact Carrie Kissel

Contact Scott Brown

Contact Jamie McCormick

Contact Joe McKinney

Contact Krystal De Leon

Contact Brittany Salazar

Contact Laurie Thompson

Contact Mirielle Burgoyne