Empowering Economic Development

Progress on the CREC Policy Academy for Strategic Alignment

Halfway through the CREC Policy Academy, teams from six states are making progress toward aligning state and regional activities and creating long-term sustainability.

| December 4, 2023 |

As the teams approach the halfway point of the CREC Policy Academy to fuel strategic alignment, a promising tapestry of progress is being woven by six teams with members representing states and Economic Development Districts (EDDs) from Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Delving into the intricacies of economic development and partnerships, the Policy Academy embarked in April 2023 to align state and regional strategies to fuel economic success in each of the six states.

Each team is comprised of a Core and Home Team. The Core Team has the most direct involvement in the Policy Academy, playing a leadership role by taking responsibility for the team’s activities. This team is comprised of four to eight members and generally includes representatives from the state economic agency and one or more EDDs. The larger Home Team includes state leaders, EDD leaders, and other stakeholder representatives whose input is important for the success of the alignment strategies. The Home Team offers guidance throughout the process by attending team meetings and providing expertise, support, and spreading awareness of the work. Now, six months into the experience, state and EDD leaders continue to learn new ways to better align their strategic initiatives and everyday activities, looking to the future of economic development through the Policy Academy journey.

Key Takeaways:

  • For all six teams, in-person site visits during the summer motivated members to continue working toward aligning the activities of state development agencies with EDDs, as momentum picked up for each team after their respective meetings.
  • Engaging with the Home Team helped to plan the remaining months of the Academy and motivated participants to accomplish the specific tasks that advance each team’s broader goals. All participants recognize the need to continue building on these communication channels.
  • Many teams created subcommittees, not only to engage Home Team members, but also to assist with accomplishing specific goals.
  • Conversations indicate that sustaining this work beyond the end of the Policy Academy is a priority across all teams. Nurturing long-term alignment is an important goal for each team.

Team Progress

Since kick-off, each of the six teams organized regular meetings with Core Team members, as well as an in-person meeting during the summer with CREC facilitators and Home Team members. CREC also hosted webinars to share Academy experiences with the national economic development ecosystem and held monthly calls with Team leads to provide an opportunity to share successes and challenges in their journey. As the Policy Academy approaches its winter conclusion, the progress made by these teams is not just a milestone—it is a narrative of resilience, innovation, and a shared commitment to shaping the economic future. Each team started at a different point; therefore, the metrics for success and goals differ for each team. Join us as we delve into the dynamic story of each team’s evolution and the strategic moves that are paving the way for a sustainable and aligned economic landscape.


The Colorado Team has built stakeholder support for the Policy Academy process and established a framework for enhanced communication, collaboration, and alignment of economic development strategies and actions within the state. The Core Team first articulated this vision at the April 2023 kickoff meeting, when the team identified a lack of a unified voice and minimal collaboration between regional and state partners as a challenge. The team is focused on improving communication, especially with respect to aligning the timing and substance of the regional CEDS development with the statewide CEDS. The Home Team confirmed its commitment and buy-in for the vision during an in-person gathering in Denver, during which participants crafted a statement describing what success for this effort would look like by 2026:

Ideally, the regional CEDS advises the state CEDS to better align strategies and inform program development. A shared framework would exist across the state and regions with ongoing two-way communication and awareness across both workforce and economic development partners. This framework would serve as a critical touchpoint for legislation affecting local economic development and create a model for other states to emulate. 

Since July, the Colorado Team has focused on action steps to build out the shared framework. Three subcommittees were created that align with the framework goals:

1. The Communications Subcommittee will address internal and external communication strategies and partner/ecosystem mapping. They will also draft a press release for the October Economic Development Council of Colorado (EDCC) annual meeting to promote the alignment framework with a wider audience.  
2. The MOU Subcommittee will craft a memorandum of understanding among state organizations to identify and leverage strengths, improve efficiencies, and increase collaboration.  
3. The Resources Subcommittee will consider the resources needed to implement the framework and options for sustaining the work if additional funding is not available. 

The full Colorado Team and subcommittees continue to meet biweekly, alternating between full team and subcommittee meetings. Many Core and Home Team members met in person at the Economic Development Council of Colorado (EDCC) conference this fall when the initiative was announced in a press release and to EDCC attendees.


The Idaho Team began the Academy with a strong foundation as the state released their statewide CEDS plan, Idaho Strong, around the time of the Policy Academy kick-off. The team wanted to build on this important step by delivering on their mission developed during the Academy:

Formalize and institutionalize collaborative regional and state planning processes and build an inclusive economic development community within the state.

The team recognized the need for an inclusive process and identified many organizations that should be included in the Academy, such as EDDs, universities, corporations, and consultants. Five goals reflected the team’s ambition with each assigned a committee towards its achievement:

1. Create organization and program Asset Map for Idaho. 
2. Develop common language with the Home Team.
3. Create a calendar of major planning document deadlines/approvals.
4. Identify a long-term statewide organization to convene players, to be determined.
5. Develop marketing strategy and materials for a consistent story.

A Home Team meeting in August highlighted these goals through committee meetings designed to advance activity toward the Academy goals. Twenty stakeholders and Home Team members from across the state attended, representing all EDDs, industry and utility partners, three universities, the state Department of Commerce, and numerous other regional and minority representatives. The meeting participants recognized that when organizations collaborate on projects and initiatives, regions will have a greater ability to pursue funding and resources from various development programs. The August meeting heavily contributed to building momentum, as different EDDs heard about each other’s experiences firsthand. Although the committees all made progress, the Idaho Team acknowledges the challenges of aligning strategies and actions but is committed to diving deeper and creating a stronger economic development community.


The Kansas Team began their Policy Academy journey with scattered alignment between the state and its EDDs, as well as minimal understanding of an overall strategic vision. The team’s initial potential vision was:

 A fully functioning state-level association; a strategic plan or framework for the collaboration between the state, EDDs, and stakeholders guided by a SWOT analysis; a matrix of the state, EDDs and EDA economic development priorities in a visual format; and an MOU to work together in good faith to incorporate one another’s efforts in the strategic and economic development planning.

The Core Team left the initial kick-off meeting with a solid understanding of their vision statement and initiated work with the Home Team to get everyone on the same page. During the summer, the Kansas Core and Home Teams worked to find more alignment around goals and create an action plan. From these discussions, the team decided to focus on three goals:

1. Improve communication channels between local, regional, and state partners.
2. Develop a collaborative framework for action between partners.
3. Enhance the utility of the Kansas Association of Regional Development Organizations (KARDO).

Since this meeting, the Kansas Core Team has taken a more systematic approach to some of their goals – specifically the third goal – to evaluate different models, frameworks, and structures. They hope this back-end foundational work will help increase buy-in from the Home Team and provide a solid foundation for enhancing the utility of KARDO moving forward. A site visit with facilitators also helped increase the amount of regional input in the state’s “Framework for Growth 2.0,” which builds upon the state’s strategy to align state efforts with emerging local trends. The updated framework’s publication deadline has been delayed allowing more stakeholders to contribute their insights, which will make the document more reflective of the thoughts from EDDs and other stakeholders. Looking ahead, the Kansas Team will continue to develop clear communication channels with partners and stakeholders throughout the state and lay the foundation for a more robust engagement between the state and EDDs.


Louisiana has an inconsistent history of collaboration between the state economic development agency, planning district commissions (PDCs), and regional economic development organizations (REDOs). PDCs were assumed to focus solely on public sector-funded activities (e.g., infrastructure) and REDOs were viewed as focused on business and the “real” work of economic development. Meanwhile, Louisiana Economic Development (LED) managed its own statewide planning process as directed by the legislature and state statutes. These three separate work streams resulted in limited relationships between members of the Core and Home Teams prior to the Academy.

The team’s interest in pursuing the Policy Academy opportunity was driven by three factors:

A desire to improve regional collaboration; an expected change in state leadership after the 2023 elections; and a desire to develop a focused statewide climate resilience program.

Louisiana’s effort is led by a large Core and Home Team, including representatives from every PDC and REDO in the state. Moving forward, the Core and Home Team members will engage in four working groups to further refine their plans and action items:

1. Support the Core Team planning efforts.
2. Supporting and developing joint programs.
3. Designing a statewide quality of life investment initiative.
4. Designing a statewide resiliency initiative.

The team is motivated and the state and regional organizations are embracing collaboration and opportunities to engage with each other through shared planning and supporting tools to make these collaborations more routine, such as developing an MOU between relevant organizations. External events, such as the 2023 gubernatorial  election and LED’s preparation for a new statewide economic development plan, are reinforcing their commitment, with the team intending to institutionalize these practices for the long-term. The team believes that the Academy activities will ensure that enhanced collaboration will be a part of future state and regional economic development discussions.


The Michigan Team differs from the other Policy Academy teams in that the work is initially focused primarily on the Upper Peninsula (UP), rather than the entire state. The three EDDs in the UP are working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to determine the possibility of developing a peninsula-wide development strategy, called the Superior Economic Development Strategy (SEDS), to align the efforts of three EDDs and combine the three regional CEDS. One long-term goal is to use this SEDS as a framework for a similar effort encompassing all EDDs in the state.

The team is driving toward an initial Academy outcome of a finalized SEDS that can be leveraged for funding opportunities in the UP and to fuel improved alignment between the EDDs and the state.

The team has three goals:

1. Short-term: Aggregate the existing UP CEDS plans. 
2. Long-term: Create a standardized table of contents for the UP-wide SEDS plan.
3. Final objective: Share the work with all of Michigan’s regional EDDs and make recommendations for how they can better collaborate across the state.

The Home Team focused on the first two goals during the summer. The initial conversation centered on the UP EDDs draft SEDS document and how it reflected the combined priorities of the three regions. MEDC and the three regional agencies in the UP discussed the 11 priority areas in the SEDS, recognizing that not all aligned perfectly with the state’s priorities, but a MEDC awareness of the efforts is important for future alignment and the region’s prosperity.

Once the UP is aligned, the Michigan Team hopes to communicate this strategy with state partners to align other regional plans, as well as align the SEDS to MEDC’s strategic plan. By strategically focusing on one area of the state, the Michigan Team believes it will have a strategy that will increase opportunities for the UP and be a model for statewide collaboration.


Prior to the Policy Academy, Wisconsin did not have a formalized system for collaboration and communication between the state and its EDDs. State-EDD collaboration and partnerships took place on an ad-hoc basis and were based on personal relationships. As such, it was highly susceptible to the relatively high staff turnover at the EDDs. Furthermore, geographic and institutional misalignment between the EDDs and Wisconsin’s Regional Economic Development Organizations (REDOs), which are formal partners to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), created another layer of complexity to the alignment challenge.

The Policy Academy process in Wisconsin is led by the Office of Rural Prosperity, a division of WEDC. In participating in the Policy Academy, Wisconsin seeks to advance rural development by aligning efforts between the state, EDDs, Native American tribes, and universities.

Wisconsin aims to accomplish four goals in the Policy Academy:

1. Establish a formal platform for collaboration between the state, EDDs, tribes, and universities in a way that creates a positive feedback loop that incentives more collaboration.
2. Enhance alignment between the EDDs and REDOs.
3. Enhance alignment between the EDDs and tribal communities.
4. Explore the possibility of all EDD CEDS being in the same development/update cycles.

Discussion around these goals was the focus of the in-person meeting with all members of the Core and Home Team this summer. In preparation for these discussions, Home Team members conducted a survey of rural community needs through which respondents identified affordable housing, childcare, broadband, and workforce development as the most pressing needs. Summer meetings included conversations around these issues and how stakeholders can pool resources and collaborate more effectively, what strategic role other stakeholders (e.g., REDOs and tribes) can play to tackle these issues, and how the Office of Rural Prosperity can use its annual economic development summit to bring these stakeholders together. Next steps for the Core Team are to establish working groups on specific rural issues to continue the strategic conversations, and later to identify project and funding opportunities around which disparate stakeholders can jointly pursue in a manner that is consistent with the overall strategic objectives.

Final Thoughts

Although each team started at different points on the alignment continuum, all have made remarkable progress since the Academy began last spring. As each team continues with the remaining two months of the Policy Academy, they are striving to reach their goals and determine how to sustain this emerging alignment process in the long-term. In general, key takeaways at this stage in the process include:

  • For all six teams, the summer in-person site visits motivated members to continue working toward aligning the activities of state development agencies with EDDs, as momentum picked up for each team after their respective meetings.
  • Engaging with the Home Team helped to plan the remaining months of the Academy and motivated participants to accomplish the specific tasks that advance each team’s broader goals. All participants recognize the need to continue building on these communication channels.
  • Many teams created subcommittees, not only to engage Home Team members, but also to assist with accomplishing specific goals.
  • Conversations indicate that sustaining this work beyond the end of the Policy Academy is a priority across all teams. Nurturing long-term alignment is an important goal for each team.

Learning important lessons from this process and how this work can expand and be sustained in the long-term will be a major focus over the final months of the Policy Academy. The teams reconvened with CREC staff this fall at a meeting prior to the National of Development Organizations (NADO) Annual Training Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. This gathering brought together the six teams to share their progress and discuss plans for long-term sustainability of their new and improved alignment. The Academy will wrap up in in early 2024 with a virtual meeting, which includes both the Core and Home Teams.

Each team will celebrate their accomplishments by discussing their Academy experiences with a focus on their progress and their specific efforts to sustain new relationships. Teams will also develop a short-written report that will highlight their progress as well as lessons learned which will be integrated into a larger Academy report developed by CREC. The reports and presentations will not only inspire the teams, but also the larger economic development ecosystem.

The blog was prepared by the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness using Federal funds under award ED21HDQ3070060 from the Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.