Two major players in Corridor economic development, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, are simultaneously undergoing big leadership changes. The alliance’s CEO Dee Baird stepped down in late April and Iowa City chamber CEO Nancy Quellhorst retired from her post in May.
It’s an unusual circumstance. But, as we see it, it’s also a golden opportunity to consider changing the way economic development entities, including the Economic Alliance, Iowa City Chamber and Iowa City Area Development Group, or ICAD, align their staff, work and visions for the economic benefit of the entire region.
We’ve heard lots of hopeful talk over the years about the need for a regional approach to economic development. We’ve heard good arguments for the need to tear down walls, dismantle silos and rip up traditional turf in favor of a more cooperative, coordinated regional approach.
Certainly, there has been some action to go along with that talk. Currently, the Economic Alliance and ICAD are engaged in a joint venture focusing on issues seen as regional economic concerns, including developing and recruiting a skilled workforce and marketing the region to business prospects. Also, a regional visioning process commenced last year, gathering loads of data intended to inform regional efforts on economic development and beyond.
Tom Goedken, chairman of the ICAD board of directors, told us the process of figuring out what should be handled regionally and what must remain in the hands of local leaders is critical and ongoing. Lydia Brown, who chairs the Economic Alliance Policy Board, says the drive to forge tighter regional bonds is informing its leadership transition discussion.
“Anytime you have a leadership change, it’s an opportunity to take a moment, pause, and see if there’s a better way of doing things,” Brown said.
We agree. And we’d urge leaders at both ends of the Corridor to aggressively dig into the possibilities, including the potential for shared leadership, staff alignment and other significant changes. It’s possible a realignment also could lead to savings, freeing up more resources for development efforts.
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We see this as a unique moment primed for accelerating regional cooperation. Don’t let walls, silos or turf get in the way.
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