Strengthening Partnerships: Improving the Alignment Between States and Economic Development Districts

| October 18, 2022 |

The 2022 National Association of Development Organization’s (NADO) Annual Training Conference held in Pittsburgh offered more than 400 attendees a strong training agenda including sessions to help economic development districts (EDDs) enhance their relationship and collaboration with state economic development partners.


The Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness (CREC) convened a Technical Assistance (TA) Learning Lab, a panel workshop and one-on-one TA sessions with several EDDs all aimed at helping EDDs work with their state partners. The sessions focused on the alignment of state-economic development district (EDD) strategies, exploration of emerging practices, and how to build a collaborative relationship with state economic development departments – from planning to program implementation. A separate conference session on the importance of state EDD associations also offered important insights into strategic alignment.


At the October 16th Learning Lab, 30 attendees heard Mereb Hagos, Program Manager at CREC, share an overview of CREC’s project with EDA to better align state and local economic development planning strategies and discussed research findings from the state-local economic development strategies matrix and emerging practices. Following the presentation, CREC and NADO facilitated small group discussions with EDD leaders on four key topics:

1) Opportunities for EDD and state collaboration,

2) Examples of where state-local collaboration is happening,

3) Obstacles for collaboration, and

4) EDD involvement in the planning/execution of the EDA $1 million Statewide Planning Grants.


The session was lively with good small group discussions that provided some key takeaways and opportunities to strengthen the coordination between state, regional and local economic development offices, including:

  • Examples of Collaboration: Economic development districts are collaborating with their respective states on broadband infrastructure development, regional transportation infrastructure, business lending programs, export marketing, CEDS development, and recovery/resiliency planning.
  • Obstacles: Some EDD representatives reported experiencing turf battles, where some states view EDDs as competitors over subject and policy areas, funding and resources, and status. EDDs also recognize that it can be difficult for states to know when to interact with the EDDs when there are varying perspectives of EDD strengths and differences in priorities. EDDs also noted that they deal with constant staff turnover at both their organizations and at legislative offices, making it sometimes difficult to forge strong collaborative relationships. EDDs are also not always aware of community federal applications and would benefit from additional transparency in the federal application process.
  • Opportunities: EDDs play a vital role in economic development and can actively demonstrate their value to state representatives by providing fees for services, such as providing local data analyses. EDDs can fill gaps for capacity needs and be a resource for small communities as they work to address their regional challenges. EDDs can also advocate for EDA reauthorization to provide stability in their programming.
  • $1 Million Statewide Planning Grants: Almost all EDDs indicated they were not aware of the EDA $1 million Statewide Planning Grant and have not been engaged by their respective states to participate in the planning process. One attendee noted that their Economic Development Representative strongly encouraged their state to engage with districts on broadband and developing the statewide CEDS.

The Learning Lab session was extremely insightful for economic development district leaders to learn from their peers and energize their interest to engage their states through the CEDS planning process and the $1 million Statewide Planning Grants.

EDDs and States:  Collaborating for Success

An October 17th session at the conference featured Mereb Hagos, Cindy Hultz and Caroline Smith.  Mereb is a Program Manager with CREC, and she presented background on how the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development works with economic development districts in Pennsylvania. Cindy is the Executive Director of the Mark Twain Regional Council of Governments (Perry, MO) and Carolina is the Economic Development Manager for the Apalachee Regional Planning Council (Tallahassee, FL). Both presented unique examples of specific collaboration between their regional governments and respective states.

The session also featured live polling where the audience responded to specific questions about alignment and collaboration with their states. The questions and response highlights are below:


  • How would you rate your EDD’s strategic alignment with your state’s economic development department? About 60% of the respondents indicated that their EDD’s strategic alignment was “poor” or “fair.” Only 12% indicated the alignment was “excellent”.


  • How would you rate your EDD’s collaboration with your state’s economic development department? Interesting, the collaboration responses were slightly more affirmative than alignment question. About 46% of the respondents indicated that the collaboration was “poor” or “fair,” while 54% indicated that it was “good” or “excellent.”


  • Where is the best collaboration occurring between your EDD and your state’s economic development department (note one)? Three responses were the most frequently noted by the respondents: Planning (55%), Infrastructure (30%) and Business Development (17%).


  • How could collaboration improve between your EDD and your state’s economic development department (note one)? Respondents highlighted three actions to improve collaboration: increased state funding (32%), states partner with EDD and state planning activities (32%), and more frequent interaction with state officials (18%).


  • Was your EDD involved in the development of the $1 million statewide planning grant? None of the EDD respondents indicated certainty that the EDD was involved with the grant with 77% indicating “no” and 23% noting they “weren’t sure.”


  • Is your state expecting your EDD to be involved in the execution of activities related to the statewide planning grant? About one-third of the respondents (33%) indicated that they expected their EDD to be involved in the execution of the statewide planning grant; 56% indicated “no.” These responses are an interesting contrast to the responses related to EDD involvement of the grant development.


These panel and workshop sessions offered great insights into the alignment and collaboration for specific states and EDDs while also providing important EDD perspectives on alignment with state economic development departments.

One-on-One Technical Assistance

In addition to the Learning Lab and the panel workshop, CREC met with EDDs representing regions in Utah, Arkansas, Texas, Iowa, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The CREC team prepared customized fact sheets for each region to review findings from the state-local economic development strategies matrix. These findings provided insights into opportunities for increased collaboration, including how regions might support state efforts.

The EDDs represented different regions of the U.S., and each EDD provided a unique perspective on state-local collaboration. These conversations provided insights on the status of the EDD’s current relationship with their respective state economic development organizations (EDOs) and where they would like to see more collaboration, including:

  • Generally, there’s a lack of communication between state EDOs and EDDs but planning efforts help to drive conversations between the entities.
  • Leadership and staff turnover at state EDOs make it extremely difficult for EDDs to maintain relationships at the state level.
  • Economic development ecosystems can be very segmented. A few EDDs did not have a direct connection with the state EDO’s leadership but had strong relationships with the state’s regional offices.
  • EDDs often face challenges to obtain funds for matching grants when required for projects.
  • State EDOs are most interested in collaborating with EDDs on infrastructure projects, such a broadband expansion and water and sewer infrastructure.
  • EDDs want to be in the room with state EDOs when they’re developing a strategic plan for the state and believe all partners will see value in that joint activity.

Strength in Numbers: Best Practices for State Associations    

Statewide associations play an important role in strengthening the organizational capacity of the nation’s regional councils and regional development organizations. Due to their importance, a session at the Annual Conference was organized to showcase statewide associations and encourage discussion on the subject among participants.

Speakers from five states presented briefly on the associations and networks in their states, including Pennsylvania, Vermont, Idaho, Florida, and West Virginia. The presentations provided examples of the diverse range of missions, programs, budgets, and organizational structures that currently exist.  Participants learned about the value of building and maintaining a strong statewide association and best practices to leverage them to advocate, educate, and collaborate on behalf of regional organizations in their state. After presenting, the speakers sat at tables to discuss subjects raised during the presentations and challenges faced in individual states. Jill Foys, the presenter from Pennsylvania, then led report-outs from the groups and provided summary comments. Thanks to the interactive discussion and relevance of the subject, the session was very well received by participants and NADO staff intend to organize sessions on the subject at future conferences.

Final Thoughts

The Learning Lab, panel workshop, one-on-one TA and the state association session highlighted not only the value and opportunity of improved strategic alignment, but the strong interest of the EDDs to pursue stronger relationships with states. The EDDs benefited from the sessions by learning how to potentially work with states and CREC came away with a better understanding of the EDD-state relationship.

The materials included on these State-Local Alignment webpages were 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.