Success! Building State-EDD Strategic Alignment through the CREC Policy Academy

| June 17, 2024 |

At the completion of the nine-month CREC Policy Academy, teams reflect on lessons learned to align state and local economic development strategies and build sustained economic benefits.

States and regions are increasingly recognizing the value and importance of fostering strategic alignment among economic development initiatives. The push for such alignment stems from a growing understanding that when long-term strategies across various levels of government and organizations are harmonized, the benefits are multifaceted and substantial. These benefits range from enhanced economic outcomes to a more robust preparedness for future economic disruptions.

Kicking off in April 2023, the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness (CREC) Policy Academy was funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to improve alignment between state economic development agencies and local partners, especially EDA-designated Economic Development Districts (EDDs). The Policy Academy established a nine-month cohort learning process with participants from Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, who embarked on a process to better align strategies and actions between state leaders, EDDs, and other state and local stakeholders. By working together, sharing objectives, and leveraging combined resources, states and regions can achieve better economic outcomes. The goal is a united, collaborative, and efficient approach to economic development that maximizes resilience and growth with opportunities to customize the experience and approach to their state team.

Key Academy Takeaways

  • It is necessary to be intentional about relationship building.
  • Cultural change is needed for sustainability.
  • The work is “simple” – but “simple” is not “easy.”
  • High-level buy-in is vital but staff buy-in is essential for long-term success.


As the Academy concluded in January 2024 with each team developing a final report and presentation, participation in the learning cohort led to many successes,  lessons, and reflections on what they would have done differently in the process. Overall, teams reported the process to be successful in transforming the economic development landscape in their states. Four key takeaways from the Academy were:

1.      It is Necessary to Be Intentional About Relationship Building

Throughout this process, the teams communicated the vision and goals of the Academy to all stakeholders, built a coalition of support for the change, created a sense of urgency and momentum for the change, and provided resources and support for those affected by the change. The lesson learned is that a nuanced and customized approach is essential to effectively strengthen the capabilities of EDDs and foster sustainable development. Embedding the concept of alignment into the daily work of the teams had led to stronger relationships and a higher likelihood of sustaining the work beyond the Academy.

2.      Cultural Change is Needed for Sustainability

The need for a statewide culture change in incorporating alignment in both process and policy was a clear lesson. The need to “get comfortable” communicating with each other, including expanding the definition of who is “in” the area of impact, is important to make change. It takes time and remarkable shared commitment, but it is always worth doing given the improved economic outcomes that result from this.

3.      The Work is “Simple” – but “Simple is not “Easy”

Breaking down the initiatives to move forward with the Academy may have seemed simple at first, but because of the cultural shifts, organizational dynamics, and required relationship building involved to kick off many of these activities, teams learned that the Academy would not necessarily be easy. A strong commitment to the process was necessary. The time required over the past nine months to make effective changes was a challenge but was worthwhile in the end.

4.      High-level buy-in is vital for success but staff buy-in is essential for long-term success

Securing buy-in from leadership is necessary so the wider audience understands the value of the process, but as noted in some states, if the initiative is not institutionalized it runs the risk of losing support when key staff depart. Having high level buy-in is important to share the value of the work, but staff commitment to continue the tasks to move the initiative forward is essential.

Final Thoughts on the Policy Academy

Great work can be done individually, but greater achievements are possible when a team approaches a project through collaborative partnerships. The Policy Academy overall showed the six teams and the national ecosystem the benefits of coordinating strategies and emphasizing alignment in economic development activities and processes.  Economic development is never finished; therefore, the work is an ongoing journey with new and varied challenges always emerging, and requires adaptability, flexibility, and a shared dedication to constant progress.

Past blogs, reports and webinars highlighted that fostering such alignment requires a cultural shift among state and regional partners. Changing behaviors requires incentives that encourage stakeholders to embrace new ways of collaborating, moving beyond traditional silos to accept a culture of openness and trust. This shift is foundational to developing a shared vision that can effectively guide collective efforts—a vision that emerges from ongoing dialogue, engagement, and the willingness to invest in building trusting relationships among current and future partners. By working together, sharing objectives, leveraging combined resources, and marketing changes, states and regions can achieve better economic outcomes.

A more detailed report, CREC Policy Academy: A Learning Cohort Designed to Improve Regional Competitiveness by Enhancing State and Local Alignment Strategies,” highlights the strategies employed by teams to support their alignment efforts including alignment of planning cycles, creating asset maps, formalizing collaboration, and creating a single brand. This report along with other resources related to state-local alignment and each individual team report and final presentation can be found here.

Academy Participants at a Meeting in Cleveland


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.