May 09, 2018

The changing role of economic development for local government

The changing role of economic development for local government

Column by Mark Crawley

Economic Development for local government was very different 10 years ago, it was more about facilitation and incentive provision to attempt to attract investors to develop new initiatives in a local government area.

For some time, councils have been encouraged to include economic development in their corporate plans and some councils have even developed their own separate economic development strategies to encourage development in their regions by highlighting and identifying the opportunities for development. Many of these are smaller types of development and many strategies identify projects that are quite achievable if the right investment were to come along.

Councils employ or engage economic development officers within their organisational structures to assist with delivery of the economic development strategy. Most identify partners and stakeholders and it is acknowledged that it requires a genuine partnership to effect delivery of the outcomes. Many local chambers of commerce work with and partner with the councils to deliver on those outcomes identified in the strategy.

Ten years on that role is changing to include the need to prepare and develop business plans and have a collection of investment-ready projects so that these may be presented to potential investors to relocate to the local government area. Often the local council does not have the financial and human resources to achieve this as some of the potential projects are quite large and the level of detail required is beyond the local capacity of the council.

State and Federal Government have a role in economic development at the local level and should assist local government through the provision of funding to allow the councils to prepare the business cases and have their projects investment ready. While the council will receive revenue from rates for these new industries, the State and Federal Governments are also beneficiaries of new business/industry through the collections of taxes when these business ventures are established. Should they not contribute towards building the case and allowing projects to be close to investment ready?

To progress many council are building good working relationships with Trade and Investment Queensland (TIQ) officers in the regions to have their projects presented to potential investors both within Australia and fromoverseas. Councils starting to see more investor interest from overseas also need to be culturally skilled to deal with the cultural differences of the delegation representatives.

TIQ have assisted councils by attending briefings between council and potential investors and through trade delegations to regions within north Queensland.

Recently the Local Government Association of Queensland and TIQ signed an MOU to further assist councils with this service more formally. The aim of the MOU is to improve support and coordination of state and local trade and investment activities, such as trade missions, and to provide assistance to regional councils, including training, cultural understanding, and in-market support when travelling overseas and hosting inbound investment delegations.

Councils interested in overseas investment and progressing economic development in their area would be encouraged to take advantage of this service and the training when available to assess the opportunities within their Council and Regional areas.

Economic development for local government in 2018 has changed, but with the right assistance and working together opportunities will be realised and investment attraction realised. Council are getting smarter and are looking for opportunities to grow their local economies through the economic development process.

* Former local government chief executive officer Mark Crawley is the managing director of  Mark Crawley Consulting in Townsville

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