Linking Economic Development to Strategic Planning: Issues for Community Problem Solving

Article excerpt


This article explores three fundamental questions related to economic development and strategic planning. First, what are the necessary preconditions to link economic development with strategic planning? Second, how can an economic development strategic plan be adapted to different community situations? Finally, what is a framework for implementing an economic development strategic plan? The purpose for addressing these questions is to draw attention to critical issues needing more consideration by practitioners and public policy researchers in an effort to understand the application of strategic planning to addressing local economic issues. The article concludes with directions for future research.


Economic development has varied in scope, ranging from attracting new industry (Eisinger, 1988; Elder and Lind, 1987; Humphrey et al., 1989; Imbroscio, 1995) to initiating strategic planning to accommodate economic change (Thomas, Means, and Grieve, 1988; Sorkin, Ferris, and Hudak, 1984; Streib and Poister, 1990; Wheeland, 1993; Reed and Blair, 1993). Strategic planning represents a relatively new dimension to economic development and a body of literature is beginning to emerge on the subject, particularly as it relates to economic development.l This research has revealed the characteristics of the strategic planning process and the key elements to complete the process (Wheeland, 1993; Bryson and Roering, 1988; Blakely, 1989; Fladeland, 1991; Luke et al., 1984; Pammer and Dustin, 1993).

Despite the existing research, the literature lacks an exploration of salient preconditions to link economic development to strategic planning. Furthermore, the literature lacks both an examination of how strategic planning can be adapted to different economic situations and a framework for implementation. This article addresses these issues based on case examples in facilitating strategic plans for economic development. The article concludes with directions for future research on this topic.


Strategic planning has been defined as "a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what a [community] is, what it does and why it does it" (Bryson, 1989:5). When linked to economic development, the core idea of strategic development is to focus on the future by developing collaborative relationships among public, private, and non-profit organizations to adopt short- and long-term strategies to create resilient communities that can adapt to on-going change.

In particular, this approach seeks to establish a problem-solving framework that 1) considers how external and internal factors of communities impact their quality of life which have social and economic consequences that impact wealth creation and 2) pursues economic development on the assumptions that multi-faceted issues must be addressed in order to augment business development and to facilitate adaptation to the dysfunctions in the economic cycle.

Establishing a problem-solving framework requires that economic development assume a strategic-systems approach. To put it more succinctly, communities function as systems in that their economic health, while impacted by their relative place in the metropolitan market or regional economy, is stabilized by the simultaneous interaction among business development, retraining and education systems, infrastructure, housing, public safety, environment, and technological innovations (Clarke, 1992; Daly and Cobb, 1993:361368).

Therefore, strategic planning will be necessary to integrate these elements in some collaborative form in order to capture investment capital for economic success2 because the characteristics of some communities and counties, well positioned for success in the 21st century, will include 1) new levels of investment in plant and equipment; 2) excellent educational systems (especially for those not going to college); 3) skilled workforce and good retraining systems; 4) a manufacturing culture based on niche markets3; and 5) a commitment to produce high-added value products (Kennedy, 1993:334). …