When the 2012 Major League Baseball regular season ended, the Colorado Rockies found themselves atop the National League in team hitting percentage with a .274 average for the year. They were tied for first in the total number of hits, and third in the league in runs scored.
If one were to look no further, one might surmise from these statistics that the Colorado Rockies enjoyed a very successful year. After all, with numbers like these—outhitting every team in the league, scoring more runs than all but two teams—certainly the Rockies must have been a strong contender for post-season play.
In fact, the Rockies finished dead last in their division. Only the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros had a worse won/loss record. How could this be, when the offense had performed to such a high level?
The answer lies in the fact that although the Rockies had excelled offensively, they finished dead last in both team pitching and team defense. No team in the league allowed more runs to the opposition, and no team in the league committed more errors on the field than the hapless Rockies. The result was that with such an imbalanced performance, the Rockies proved to be doormats this year.
Baseball fans among readers of this article may have found all of this quite fascinating, as sports often involve much more than what meets the eye on the surface. Readers who are not baseball fans are probably wondering why I have chosen to spend time on any of this, rather than focusing on the topic of economic development.
So here’s the point. The Rockies overall performance in 2012 provides a lesson in how we need to be competitive in all major factors of our game in order to be successful. In the world of economic development, we are engaged in retaining and attracting quality primary jobs in order to enhance the local economy and provide an environment where local residents have the opportunity to secure gainful employment.
Just as with professional sports, economic development is a highly competitive activity. With more than 5,000 economic development organizations across the country vying for new jobs, companies are able to be very selective when evaluating locations for an expansion facility or a new factory. In the past, many communities became complacent with regard to a focus on job creation, believing that the “quality of life” in their community was sufficiently attractive to bring any new company knocking. Over time, they have learned that “quality of life” is a highly subjective term dependent on the interests and circumstances of those who choose to live in a given area.
As a result, those communities that have been successful in economic development—in expanding their primary job base, are those that have conducted an honest assessment of their community—attempting to scrutinize it and see it as outsiders would see it. Typical areas of examination include:
- Infrastructure: Do we have the capacity to serve the needs of existing and new businesses with necessities such as water, sewer, electricity, telecommunications, etc.?
- Labor force: Does the region have the type and quantity of either trained or trainable labor to serve the needs of industry both today and into the future?
- Transportation: Does the community have the ground, air and rail transportation systems to move raw materials in and finished goods out in an efficient manner?
- Education: Are our schools performing at a level that potential new residents would feel confident in entrusting the education of their children to them?
- Business environment: Does our tax and regulatory climate allow business to compete regionally, nationally and internationally; or do we impede that competition with burdensome regulation?
- Quality of place: Does our community have the recreational, cultural, retail, healthcare, social welfare and other amenities in place to make it an attractive place for families to choose?
- Crime: Is our community a safe place?
These are but a few examples of an extensive list of questions that a community must ask of itself on an on-going basis. When the answers may not be quite what we want, we have a call to action. To suggest that any community has successfully addressed all of these critical issues is folly. What is important to economic development success is that there be a continuous, honest evaluation of our area so that we remain absolutely as competitive as we can possibly be—knowing that there are regions throughout the country that are ready to compete head-to-head with us for the job creation that we have determined we want and need.
At its core, successful economic development is dependent on a serious examination of the region’s strengths and challenges, and an attitude of aggressively addressing those factors that may make us less competitive than we need to be. Just as in sports, our opposition will likely uncover our weaknesses and exploit them to their advantage.
In the case of the Colorado Rockies…some starting pitching would go a long way toward turning things around in the future…