CEDS Spotlight: Southeast Conference

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.

Southeast Alaska is a region of stunning natural beauty and strong, self-reliant residents who have faced a boom and bust economy over many decades.  It is no surprise then that the region’s current CEDS “Southeast Alaska 2020” is one of the best examples in the country of infusing resilience into the CEDS planning process and final document.  Developed by Southeast Conference, the region’s Economic Development District, Southeast Alaska 2020 is a case study in effective CEDS planning, public engagement, and design.  Southeast Conference serves 34 communities that cover 500 miles of the Southeast Alaska Panhandle which includes over 1,000 islands and 18,500 miles of coastline.  The region’s population is around 74,000, a quarter of which are indigenous Native Alaskans.

Southeast Conference prepared its first CEDS in 2000, though for years the document was viewed more as a project wish list for the region and not something that was really driving a conversation about the future of the region.  “It was extremely refreshing when the new EDA Content Guidelines were released [in 2015],” says Meilani Schijvens, Southeast Conference’s Economic Development Director.  “With the guidelines we saw an opportunity to develop a really useful tool, not just for us as the Economic Development District, but for the region as a whole. We re-branded to let people know this was going to a different kind of economic planning process.”

Doing a different kind of planning process meant two keys things:  taking time with crafting the plan and being extremely inclusive to make sure as many voices as possible were included.  The CEDS was more than a year in the making, with multiple opportunities for public engagement, both in-person and online.  Over 400 members were part of the process, lending their local knowledge, expertise, and insight into the plan.  “We took the time to really access the deep intellect of our region’s people,” says Schijvens.  “The region has the answers to the challenges we are facing.”

This was particularly evident in both the SWOT process and a Resiliency Mapping exercise, an additional effort conducted as part of their CEDS.  The SWOT was conducted by Southeast Conference at its 2015 Mid-Session Summit, bringing together almost 200 stakeholders from a variety of sectors to perform a SWOT analysis both for the region as a whole as well as for specific industry sectors, including transportation, energy, maritime, and tourism.  1,300 hand written comments were collected through this process and helped spark a region-wide discussion about the status of Southeast Alaska.  Following extensive review and organizing the comments, Southeast Conference staff articulated the final SWOT chart that is found in the CEDS, as well as a more detailed analysis that is included as an appendix available on the website.  Respondents overwhelmingly identified the region’s biggest strength in its people and spirit, the biggest weakness in the cost of transportation, the biggest opportunity in seafood industry, and the biggest threat in the impact of federal regulations.

The SWOT was conducted by Southeast Conference at its 2015 Mid-Session Summit, bringing together almost 200 stakeholders from a variety of sectors to perform a SWOT analysis both for the region as a whole as well as for specific industry sectors, including transportation, energy, maritime, and tourism.
The SWOT was conducted by Southeast Conference at its 2015 Mid-Session Summit, bringing together almost 200 stakeholders from a variety of sectors to perform a SWOT analysis both for the region as a whole as well as for specific industry sectors, including transportation, energy, maritime, and tourism.

A year later at the 2016 Mid-Session Summit, a Resiliency Mapping exercise was conducted to address the challenges of an uncertain economic future.  The state of Alaska faces a $4 billion budget gap, caused in large part by the precipitous drop in oil prices, which at one time provided 90% of Alaska’s unrestricted revenues.  Southeast Alaska, which is home to the state’s capital Juneau, is particularly reliant on state government jobs and activities.  200 Southeast Alaskan leaders participated in the resiliency mapping from 23 communities, representing 24 different sectors.  They responded in person or via an online survey to the single question: “What will you do (or what do you think should be done) to ensure the economic resilience of your business/industry/community in response to the impacts of the State budget situation?”

Having experienced a downturn in the economy in the 1990s with the loss of the timber industry, this exercise placed confidence in finding homegrown solutions.  The responses received were pragmatic and demonstrated in part efforts that were already underway to become more resilient to the economic storm facing the region and the state.  The top responses included reducing business costs, increasing economic development and planning, reducing government spending and services, and increasing taxes.

The final CEDS document – at only 44 pages – is an indispensable resource for the region.  It is full of useful information, presented in a very readable, engaging format that includes infographics and images that showcase the beauty of Southeast Alaska.  “Our new CEDS is a short, relevant, accessible, and as we like to say, sexy economic planning document,” says Schijvens.  Industry leaders, elected officials, non-profit organizations, and other key stakeholders have fully embraced the newly designed CEDS.  Communities have been able to use the material in the CEDS when writing grant proposals, taking language about the region directly from the CEDS and including them in their own applications.

Additionally, in an effort to keep the region updated on the most current economic trends and conditions, Southeast Conference updates the Summary Background of the CEDS every year as a public-facing document called “Southeast Alaska by the Numbers.”  This document provides an overview of the regional economy and demographics, as well as specific information related to key industries.  This year, the document garnered national attention when it was featured in two Associated Press articles (here and here) that covered the condition of the region’s tourism and fishing industries.

Overall, the Southeast 2020 Economic Plan is a strong example of the potential that exists for developing CEDS under EDA’s Content Guidelines.  It showcases the region’s voice, emphasizes economic resilience, and is engaging and accessible.  Says Southeast Conference’s Schijvens, “What made the difference is that we took our time, were inclusive, and reached out to make sure more voices were heard and reflected in the plan.”

The final CEDS document – at only 44 pages – is an indispensable resource for the region. It is full of useful information, presented in a very readable, engaging format that includes infographics and images that showcase the beauty of Southeast Alaska
The final CEDS document – at only 44 pages – is an indispensable resource for the region. It is full of useful information, presented in a very readable, engaging format that includes infographics and images that showcase the beauty of Southeast Alaska

An interview with Meilani Schijvens, Economic Development Director

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

For so many years the CEDS was a massive report that was mostly wish list of community improvement projects in no particular order. It was useful to have the document, but it was less effective in furthering our larger regional economic goals. With the new EDA guidelines we saw an opportunity to develop a really useful tool, not just for us as the Economic Development District, but for the region as a whole. We re-branded to let people know this was going to a different kind of economic planning process. Our new CEDS is a short, relevant, accessible, and as we like to say, sexy economic planning document. The response has been extremely positive and the CEDS is being widely used across the region.  An example of the feedback we have received is from the Executive Director of the Alaska Municipal League: “The Southeast CEDS has never looked so good, been so informative, so well laid out, and able to answer the real issues and questions that we all need to know to further Southeast Alaska.  You have done an amazing job.”

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

At the time we were developing the 5-year CEDS, we were experiencing the fiscal unraveling of our statewide budget, which we knew would have devastating consequences for the region, and likely place us into another recession. The requirement to integrate resiliency into our CEDS created an opportunity. We were coming off of an all-time regional economic high, but we knew we would have to “batten down the hatches” to prepare for the economic storm that was to come (and indeed, is hitting us now). We created a very relevant resiliency exercise for our membership called “Southeast Alaska Resiliency Mapping: Weatherizing for the Economic Storm.” We asked our members, business and political leaders, tribes, community organizations, and municipalities to describe what actions, initiatives, or changes they were planning to implement (or thought should be implemented) to ensure the economic resilience of their business, industry, or community. Southeast Alaskans from 23 communities and 24 sectors across the region shared the actions they planned to take.

Nearly all – 99% of our respondents – said they were concerned about how the budget crisis would impact the regional economy, with 84% saying they are “significantly concerned” or have “maximum concern.” Their responses painted a large-scale view of how the region is reacting to the economic slow-down, allowing us to better support our regional partners in reducing the impacts of State government cuts, and at the same time taking advantage of the collective wisdom of our membership in how to persevere in difficult times.

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

We have a diverse board and a diverse membership. Southeast Conference has a proven track record of more than 50 years as being the organization that crosses community and sector lines to advocate for the larger common grounds goals in the region. Our two annual regional conferences provide an opportunity for people to meet in person, and these personal connections have continued to be invaluable for relationship building.

In terms of CEDS engagement, our secret weapon was the use of time. We took over a year to develop our 5-year CEDS, getting the message out continuously of what we were doing, and providing invitations for organizations and individuals across the region to get involved. The kind of people we were reaching out for CEDS development are extremely busy, and economic development planning is not necessarily at the top of active executives’ to-do lists. By taking the slow approach, we were able to get the engagement we wanted – with more than 400 members contributing to the economic plan – and making this process a success.

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

Almost all of our priority objectives have shown considerable activity and progress over the last year, and we have also progress in number of initiatives that were not prioritized. In many ways our CEDS elements tapped into momentum and networks that were already active, and helped coalesce these various strands into more united efforts. Each of our priority objectives has a project champion, and having that key person who is committed to the project is invaluable when it comes to implementation.

Our top CEDS priority is to develop an economically sustainable ferry system. Southeast Conference is working on approach that will identify structural changes to improve the operability and financial health of the state ferry system and our Executive Director Robert Venables is our project champion. Through this initiative we have brought not only the region but the entire state together. Alaska Governor Walker signed a MOU with Southeast Conference in support of these goals and tasked the Conference with leading this statewide effort. This effort was given its own 12-member steering committee. Phase I of this plan is complete, and completion of Phase II is expected in December 2017.

Another key priority is maritime workforce development. Here is how our project champion, shipyard developer Doug Ward, described the value of having this project in our economic plan: “The CEDS 2020 priority project to support a Maritime Industrial Support Sector Talent Pipeline has been key to transitioning our regional economy from resource extraction dependent into a diverse, productive, and highly competitive service economy supporting the Alaska’s marine assets. A resident shipbuilding workforce is required for performing advanced manufacturing in an isolated and rural region. The Southeast Conference CEDS 2020 has been helping the region create a competitive shipbuilding workforce that earned the state-owned shipyard a $100 million contract to build the first state ferries ever made in Alaska. The Shipyard operator leveraged Southeast Conference’ support of the regional maritime industrial support sector to train over 200 Alaska residents to create a regionally competitive shipbuilding work force capable of winning a $244 million ocean going ferry ship construction. Southeast Conference support of the MIS talent pipeline will earn regional businesses additional contracts as the state prepares to recapitalize it’s 50-year old fleet of nine ferries. The CEDS initiative is helping develop one of the youngest, most innovative manufacturing workforces in the nation.”

Click the image to download the Southeast Alaska 2020 Economic Plan (pdf)
Click the image to download the Southeast Alaska 2020 Economic Plan (PDF)


  • Download Southeast Conference’s Southeast Alaska 2020 Economic Plan here (PDF)
  • Download the 2017 Southeast Alaska by the Numbers here (PDF)
  • Want to learn more about the Southeast Alaska 2020 Economic Plan?  Contact Meilani Schijvens, Economic Development Director, at [email protected].

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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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.

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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.

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