CEDS Spotlight: Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region

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.

“We need our CEDS to be nimble and flexible, something that is adaptive for the good times and the bad times,” says Nancy Cowser, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region (seCTer), based in Groton.  As the region’s Economic Development District, seCTer is tasked with guiding economic development and consensus-building across 22 cities and towns.  The nimble nature of their CEDS proved extremely valuable during the last rewrite process, as the region’s fortunes shifted following a slow recovery from the recession.

A mix of setbacks hit Southeastern Connecticut hard in recent years, including a statewide fiscal crisis, layoffs in the government sector, the downsizing of Pfizer, company closures, and natural disasters including Superstorm Sandy.  Additionally, demographic impacts such as low population growth and an aging population put a strain on the region’s tax base and finances.  “In 2014, Southeastern Connecticut was ranked #244 in the country in terms of economic recovery from recession – the bottom of the pile.  By 2017, we had risen to #4,” says Cowser.

This boost had much to do with the region’s defense industry, centered around General Dynamics Electric Boat and the Naval Submarine Base New London (both located in Groton).  An increase in submarine production has led to the creation of 2,000 new Electric Boat jobs in Connecticut just last year.  It is expected that Electric Boat will have 13,000 Connecticut-based employees by 2034.  Additionally, there is a major opportunity to grow the supply chain businesses that support major defense contractors.  “Workforce development is now front and center as an economic development priority for our region, as well as placemaking and housing – the things that make people and their families want to live here,” says Cowser.  This means tapping into the region’s assets, such as cultural, arts and tourism destinations, including two large Native American casinos that are growing and diversifying.

An increase in submarine production has led to the creation of 2,000 new Electric Boat jobs in Connecticut just last year.  It is expected that Electric Boat will have 13,000 Connecticut-based employees by 2034
An increase in submarine production has led to the creation of 2,000 new Electric Boat jobs in Connecticut just last year.  It is expected that Electric Boat will have 13,000 Connecticut-based employees by 2034. (Photo: US Navy)

With this in mind, seCTer’s 2017 CEDS broke with previous iterations and moved beyond a standard list of projects towards one that identifies the region’s assets and opportunities.  According to Cowser, the process has shifted the general attitude from a “woe is us” mentality to one of “let’s rally together as a region” to foster a conversation about what is possible.  The CEDS, written by seCTer’s then-Director of Economic Development Juliet Hodge, clearly notes this new approach: “Previous CEDS focused heavily on municipal and business ‘tactical’ projects without fully articulating any regional strategy that they contributed to.  This CEDS presents a regional strategic plan that reflects the collective input, desire, and recognition of the need to nurture and create a diverse, inclusive economy for Southeastern Connecticut.”

Though not a geographically large area, Southeastern Connecticut has a mix of urban, rural, suburban, and tribal communities.  Therefore, public engagement was particularly important – in both the collecting and synthesizing of information to establish the region’s vision.  SeCTer organized four sub-regional SWOT meetings led by members of the CEDS Committee while the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments organized a region-wide event.  (Though it does not write the CEDS, the COG, along with the workforce investment board, serves as a key partner to collaborate on region-wide issues).

The outreach process was highly inclusive and included a mix of stakeholders across sectors, geography, age, education level, and more.  The voice of the region is evident in the final CEDS document, where numerous call-out boxes appear throughout the pages labeled “What We Heard” and feature regional views on key themes such as governance, resilience, transportation, and quality of life.  As part of the pivot towards implementation, a marketing subcommittee was established to promote and brand the region as a whole, which is particularly important in Connecticut with its town-based, rather than county-based, government.

As the backbone organization spearheading the CEDS planning and implementation effort, seCTer is key in fostering partnerships, supporting local champions, and tracking progress.  This means knowing when to lead, when to delegate, and when to partner on projects and implementation efforts.  As Cowser notes, it is important as an economic development organization to recognize that your role is “not to do everything, but to galvanize stakeholders, stay accountable to the plan, and be transparent through the process.”  With the region’s new CEDS serving as a guide, Southeastern Connecticut is well-prepared to face whatever lies ahead – and help play an active role in shaping that future.

The voice of the region is evident in the final CEDS document, where numerous call-out boxes appear throughout titled “What We Heard” and feature regional views on key themes such as governance, resilience, transportation, and quality of life. 
The voice of the region is evident in the final CEDS document, where numerous call-out boxes appear throughout the pages labeled “What We Heard” and feature regional views on key themes such as governance, resilience, transportation, and quality of life.

An Interview with Nancy Cowser, Executive Director, Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region

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

This CEDS represents a break from tradition in that it almost insists on a much-needed break – from the traditional practice of completing isolated projects without identifying the regional strategy to which they contribute, to a more collaborative and coordinated approach to economic development that begins with a formal recognition of the benefit of operating as one united region. The high-level Regional Vision and broad objectives developed are meant to redirect the conversation to ideas about innovation, connectivity, resiliency, and more and activate existing stakeholders by providing a more flexible framework to work with.

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

Resiliency was looked at in two ways: disruption caused by climate change, critical to the large part of our region that is shoreline, and disruption that occurs as we transition from a transaction-based economy to a more transformational economy. The CEDS intentionally pulls the focus back to building the capacity, systems, and networks critical to the region’s ability to continuously adapt to any disruptions in the economy – environmental and otherwise.

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

Incredible effort was dedicated to gathering public input from all corners of the region and across all sectors. By intentionally refocusing on the region as the economic unit and providing the flexibility to allow all advocacy groups to participate in the implementation of the CEDS, we hope to repurpose and reenergize not only our strong traditional partners but to also galvanize local civic pride to inspire new stakeholder engagement from underrepresented groups.

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

The purpose of the CEDS is to provide a framework from which to proceed and to which local plans can align to gain validity and strength. A marketing subcommittee has been created to help raise awareness that the region is the economic unit and to date many municipalities and advocacy groups are engaged in efforts that relate to one or more of the objectives in the CEDS. Three new subcommittees have been formed to help move key actions identified in the CEDS forward: Resiliency, Transportation, and Business Education and Appreciation.  seCTer began its implementation efforts by acquiring the data tools/software necessary to establish baseline data and key metrics for the region relating to livability, competitiveness, resilience, and quality of life. This data is reported semi-annually.

Envisioned to serve as a catalyst to develop a regional network to support innovation, The Thames River Innovation Place (TRIP) has been established and is growing. The TRIP projects all tie into the broad goal of transforming the region’s systems, structures, and physical landscapes into those that are highly connected and innovative. Projects include community center beautification and branding (New London/Connecticut College placemaking initiative); collaboration with UCONN on developing a CT Undersea Supply Chain Consortium in direct response to the labor and materials needed by General Dynamics/Electric Boat’s ramp up of submarine production; a Trolley Project to connect people from transportation centers to commercial centers; and the creation of a concierge service for individuals and families thinking of moving into the region. Ongoing work of the Eastern Workforce Investment Board, Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, The Southeastern CT Cultural Coalition, and Thames River Heritage Park, is also deeply embedded in many of the goals and objectives of the CEDS.

  • View seCTer’s 2017 CEDS here
  • View the CEDS Public Input Summary here
  • Want to learn more about this CEDS?  Contact Nancy Cowser, Executive 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 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.

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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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