Execution key to economic development

(The following article is adapted from a special section on the SSU School of Business and Economics to be published later this month and presented at the Feb. 25 SSU Economic Outlook Conference. The conference will focus in part on creating a regional economic development strategy. To sign up to attend, call 707-521-5264. )  

That the North Bay needs a coherent economic development focus no longer seems to be an item to be debated.   And while there are different visions of what economic development means, there is an emerging consensus in the North Bay that our approach to regional prosperity will be anchored in a foundation of sustainable business practices and healthy economic growth.  This consensus is not a trivial accomplishment in that we are not too far removed from contentious growth versus no-growth debates.  

Why then haven’t we started?  The current economic crisis has created contradictory influences in that it has heightened awareness for the need but halted momentum on real action by undermining funding and restricting our efforts.  It is hard to devote financial and human capital to regional action when it is needed for the day-to-day economic survival of individual businesses and enterprises.

Nevertheless, our business organizations and elected officials are all calling for action.  The Sonoma County Alliance recently brought development officials from around the region together to share perspectives.  The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce has declared economic development as one of its key priorities for this year.  Our county supervisors have convened a dialogue on economic development involving many diverse stakeholders.  The North Bay Leadership Council has called for the formation of an Economic Development Corp.

With a consensus on need, a plethora of ideas for programs and a shared desire for progress, why can’t we create momentum for action?

The answer lies in that the business community collectively, like many businesses independently, has lost the discipline of execution.  And while some might hope I am referring to the need to eliminate bureaucracy and bureaucrats, I mean that we have lost the discipline of getting things done.  In their bestselling book, "Execution: The Art of Getting Things Done," Bossidy and Charan identify execution as the missing link between aspirations and results. 

What if the North Bay business community were to organize itself as a well-run business?  Can we apply the execution practices of corporate successes such as GE, Honeywell, Allied Signal and Emerson to the challenge of delivering regional economic prosperity?  Can we align ourselves to execute on our aspirations and turn them into regional results?

I know we can.  But it won’t happen by merely talking about it. 

Execution is a simple two-step process.  It involves:  (1) Focus – identifying and prioritizing the key action steps; (2) Commitment – taking action and accepting ownership for delivering results.   Here is what we need to do to apply the principles of execution to our regional economy; to run our business community like a business.

The execution challenge.  In the various recent forums, meetings, dialogues, etc. that have been focused on regional economic development, a few great ideas get mentioned over and over again.   The execution challenge is not to decide how much effort or how many resources get funneled to each one, but rather, to decide which activities we will resource completely so that they can be accomplished and which activities we won’t pursue.  Here are four solid recommendations for focus, drawn from the Innovation Council’s economic strategic plan, which comes up time and time again in North Bay economic development conversations:

Create a more supportive climate for conducting business in this region.

Foster the growth and development of small innovative companies.

Attract and retain new businesses with high-value jobs and talent.

Build a world-class work force based on educational achievement.

There are other good ideas.  The point here is to pick a few, stop discussing them and start doing them. 

Just do it.  If you are reading this article, then you are in a position to make a commitment and take action.

There is no special magic about the mechanisms of regional economic development.  Economic development is just sound business practices executed at a community level.  Join us by committing now.


Dr. William Silver is the dean of the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University.

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