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  • Matt Moloney

Insider's Guide: Finding the right resources for your community’s economic development strategy

Every community looks different and their economic development strategy should reflect that. Urban centers will face different challenges than their rural counterparts—and similarly, each area will have different opportunities and assets for their community to celebrate. We sat down with Janet McRae, the director of economic development for Miami County, KS, to hear her thoughts on how they support their local ecosystem.

Janet McCrae - Miami County - Economic Development Strategy

Miami County is located on the southern tier of the greater Kansas City area and has a population of about 35,000, with almost 70% of the population commuting outside of the county for work. Janet’s role is a county-wide position to support the region. With five cities, she sometimes needs to get creative to support keeping these areas great places to live.

Building a great place to live is a pillar of economic development strategy

Sometimes considered a “bedroom community”, much of Miami County’s population is the workforce to a lot of businesses in other areas. Because of this, Janet’s economic development strategy has always been creating great places to live.

“For me, economic development has always been rooted in community development."

That’s affected her strategy—rather than solely focusing on building new businesses or bringing flashy companies to her community, she spends much of her time on the retention and expansion of existing businesses, as well as local entrepreneurs starting smaller businesses. For both business owners and the workforce:

“It really is about—are you a community in a place of quality where owners want to live, and where their employees are going to want to live.”

Connecting community through partnerships

As a small department with a large task, partnerships are very important to Miami County’s community development work. Janet has partnered with the entrepreneurship school and the Institute of Policy and Social Research (ISPR) at the University of Kansas to support her projects. The entrepreneurship school has helped Miami County identify how to position their marketing, so new entrepreneurs can find them more easily. ISPS assists with much of their data research.

Janet also frequently partners with local community colleges to develop workforce strategies. They use their data and CRM platform, Bludot, to target the right audiences for different training and apprenticeship programs. And Janet relies heavily on the Chamber of Commerce as a partner in nearly everything they do.

“I think that economic development involves a lot of listening, but also a lot of understanding numbers, interconnectivity, partnerships and being a convener. It's not something that is typically a one-person game.”

Finding the right tools for your funding size

In addition to finding the right partners, finding the right tools can be crucial to developing the right economic development strategy. As a rural county, Miami County was looking for ways to finance a tool that could help them support their local businesses. Through the USDA NIFA SBIR grant, Miami County was able to use the Bludot's economic development platform at no cost.

This tool allows them to increase their project capacity, create a business directory, track local data and reach more business owners easily—features that became especially helpful during COVID.

“When we were really trying to reach out to help people during the dark days of COVID—that's where Bludot was particularly helpful for us. You had that information readily available for us. It allowed us to execute more quickly. As we've moved in the post-COVID days, Bludot continues to be a great resource that allows us to reach more owners and provide support.”

Bludot was able to gain them access to their local businesses and contact information—something that was previously out of reach as they don’t have a county-wide business registration system—so they could provide business-saving resources and help to their community.

Bludot App - Economic Development Strategy

Nowadays, Janet is able to keep communicating with her local businesses easily through the internal tools and can promote them through the external business directories. That way, when asked for recommendations, community members can find their own favorite spot and she can promote all of her business fairly.

“As a government entity, I'm also not really promoting one business over another – I can tell them, as a user, that they can go and do it because everybody's been given the opportunity to add themselves to it if they weren't already a part of your database.”

Finding the right tools like Bludot, has allowed Janet to support all folks and every business.

It takes heart to work in a rural community

Janet has made it clear that anybody who has a heart for their community can work in economic development.

“You don't have to be an economist, you don't have to be an accountant. Those are skills you can learn. For somebody who's getting into this space it's about as hokey as it sounds, as Pollyanna as it sounds, it is about caring about the community and trying to make things bigger and better.”

Working with the right tools and partners can make it easier to become a champion for your community. If Bludot sounds like a tool that can strengthen your rural community, applications are still being accepted to join the study and receive 6 months of Bludot for free.

To see Bludot’s economic development software in action, schedule a demo today.


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