Triangle Chatter

Inside the Huddle

Charles A. Hayes, President & CEO, RTRPFor those of us who love football, nothing is more magical than weekends in the fall. The air has a certain aroma to it – the food, the beverages, the autumn air, the pageantry of it all.  It’s the smell of excitement.

Though much about the game has changed since my high school days, the thrill of a football game is a constant that reliably unites generations of diverse fans.

In order to win today a team must have an offensive game plan that employs both a running and passing attack. It strikes me that there might be a lesson here for regional economic developer.  In the battle for prosperity, regions must pursue a game-plan that includes a viable internal offensive as well as bold, external plays that hold the potential for capturing and retaining momentum. Think of the inside game as one where existing economic assets grow stronger, deeper and more lucrative. Boosting visibility and influence to industry-leading businesses elsewhere on planet Earth is at the outside part of the game-plan. The inside moves rely on muscle and patience. Outside plays succeed based on pinpoint targeting, adroit execution and clever timing. Power and desire fuel the inside game while skill and style are key factors in the more aerial approach.

The local equivalent to this paradigm should sound familiar to economic development professionals and volunteers: it’s existing industry support versus marketing.

But the internal facet of a great regional development strategy is not your father’s existing industry program. And today’s global marketing – when done regionally and done right – doesn’t look at all like what I recall doing years ago.  Times have changed. The game has changed. So have strategies and tactics. I believe even the characteristics of economic vitality can even look very different today. Interestingly, communities on the short-end of prosperity bare the same visual attributes from one generation to the next: poverty has a timeless look.

Many things account for the success of the Research Triangle Region – far too many to mention here (though I suspect I will elaborate on others in future postings). I think much of why we do well relates to the way we rely on a combination of inside and outside assets and avenues for our competitiveness. Economic development groups, academics, and business leaders seem to think we play both games pretty well: a steady stream of them visits here to observe how our region routinely beats BCS-level competition when it comes to economic development.

Perhaps I can save a few of them the trip with a brief glimpse. Our ground game – or inside strategy – is based on consistent nurturing of our dozen or so pivotal clusters. By working with key business leaders, academics and public-sector advocates for these clusters, we sow seeds of horizontal and vertical, occasionally even diagonal, growth of the collaborative and competitive ties that bind, energize and synergize these clusters. Geographic proximity brings efficiency to partnering for the sake of innovation or vying for new market share and ready talent. At times, it seems counter-intuitive. But it works.

The raw speed of today’s economy means it’s not always possible to boost the depth and strength of our clusters completely from within. That’s where an insightful understanding of each cluster’s unique and evolving dynamics becomes critical. We follow that up with focused, effective marketing tools that move our region’s value proposition in front of just the right companies at just the right time.

When there’s a missing link somewhere in one of our clusters, our global outreach programs – the outside game – takes the field to put the necessary points on the scoreboard. That’s the moment when the two strategies come together to form a singular vision.

Whether this kind of competitive formula unfolds on a football field on a pleasant Saturday afternoon or along a regional economic landscape on a rainy Monday morning, I find it an exciting game to participate in, sometimes as a fan and sometimes as a player.  Being a player is better.

Author: Charles A. Hayes, President & CEO, Research Triangle Region

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