Like anyone trying to get something done with limited time and resources, economic developers have a lot of options to weigh when formulating a strategy to attract and retain businesses in their local economy. Over the years, economic development researchers have espoused a succession of theories as they’ve learned more about the many factors that influence economic growth. Historically, practitioners have tended to respond by focusing their efforts around what they perceive as the latest and greatest thinking, often at the expense of previously favored approaches. In practice, this has led to waves in which economic developers have focused on recruiting large, established companies or on fostering home-grown start-ups—but rarely both.
In a recent paper in Economic Development Quarterly, Professor Maryann Feldman, with the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, and Professor Nichola Lowe argue that solutions to America’s current economic challenges—in particular the deepening concern over the loss of quality job opportunities and innovative capacity—could be enhanced if we recast entrepreneurship and business recruitment as complementary, rather than competing, goals. The two University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers posit that by employing both approaches in a strategic mix, economic developers can create an integrated development portfolio that is greater than the sum of its parts. Using this blended strategy, economic developers can harmonize and reinforce their efforts to cultivate different types of players within a local business ecosystem, more effectively leverage established areas of expertise and practice and better align their activities to long-term regional development goals.