Calibrating Economic Developers

A set of tools developed by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute helps economic developers improve their organization’s performance through the use of quality management techniques. This service – dubbed the Calibration Program™ – leverages Georgia Tech expertise in such areas as strategic planning, budgeting, professional development, public relations and metrics.

“Since 1961, Georgia Tech has helped local governments, economic development organizations and companies make the right decisions to manage growth, create jobs, and increase benefits to those they serve,” said Joy Wilkins, manager of community innovation services at the Enterprise Innovation Institute. “With all of that experience, we began examining what successful organizations had in common and decided to build a self-assessment tool specifically for economic development organizations around those results.”

The Calibration Program enables economic development organizations to determine the need for change or to implement corrective action to resolve inefficiencies, make informed decisions regarding the setting of organizational priorities and develop and utilize key quality management tools for achieving ongoing operational excellence. According to Wilkins, the adoption of a quality management system can help economic development organizations maintain and achieve their missions, improve their ability to meet customer needs and boost public confidence in their performance.

To create national benchmarks for the program, the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute launched a joint initiative in 2006 to benchmark excellence in quality management among economic development organizations, focusing on the practices by accredited economic development organizations (AEDOs) – that is, those recognized as being among the profession’s “best of the best.” This effort yielded several measures of enterprise excellence among the AEDOs, as well as opportunities for continual improvement on their pathway to ongoing excellence. It also helped to inform other economic development organizations about what it takes to be a high performance organization in economic development.

IEDC and Georgia Tech are again partnering to create up-to-date benchmarks during the first quarter of 2009. This 2009 effort not only surveys AEDOs according to the quality management indicators used during the 2006 effort, it also includes a few new measures relating to sustainability.

“IEDC strives to be at the forefront of economic development,” said Robin Roberts Krieger, past-chair of the International Economic Development Council. “Our important and timely partnership in launching the Calibration Program with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute will empower our members to stay ahead of the curve, and provide one more resource for their success.”

The Calibration process begins with a self-assessment by organizational stakeholders who complete an online, confidential survey. A report summarizing results from this assessment is produced, along with comparisons to the national benchmarks and a gauge for areas needing corrective action.

“Through this program, we zero in on areas of strength and areas that can be improved upon,” explained Wilkins. “In other words, we can identify areas that need calibration and recommend specific improvement projects to help the economic development organization adopt, sustain or enhance its quality management system.”

The creation of the Calibration Program was made possible through seed funding provided by the Georgia Rural Economic Development Center at East Georgia College to pilot the program.

“I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from participating in the program,” said JoAnne Lewis of the Douglas-Coffee County Chamber of Commerce of her organization’s pilot experience. “It really gives you an avenue to look at where you are and where you need to go to improve.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

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Writer: Nancy Fullbright