Remaking Economic Development: Thoughts on a new approach for Berks County

Old ways of economic development must be left behind and a new approach is needed to build an advanced and innovative economy in Berks County.

That’s the message that was delivered recently to community leaders by Amy Liu, vice president of The Brookings Institution and the director of its Metropolitan Policy Program.

Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Greater Reading Economic Partnership and Greater Berks Development Fund – all headquartered in the Gateway building at Second and Penn streets – are pursuing a merger.

As Berks County considers a new approach to economic development, the Community Foundation convened a daylong meeting to sharpen the focus of that approach.

Liu is a national expert on cities and metropolitan areas and is adept at translating research and insights into action on the ground. Berks County Community Foundation brought her to Berks County to speak to local economic development leaders at this critical time in Berks County’s redevelopment.

You can watch her talk here and you can access her PowerPoint here.

Liu told those at the meeting that her chief concern is that old practices will linger even as a new organization is born.

A lot of effort has been wasted trying to “land the deal” and attempting to lure businesses to locate here from out of the area, Liu said.

That strategy is not effective, she said. Only 3 percent of a community’s new jobs come from out-of-state businesses relocating, and only 11 percent of new jobs come from out-of-state businesses expanding into the area, she said.

“The vast majority of our economic development is focused on 14 percent,” Liu said.

Yet, 86 percent of new jobs come from startups and in-state expansion, Liu said.

A lot of small- and mid-size communities have thanked Liu for pointing this out since they’ve spent so much time and effort wooing out-of-area businesses but never land a deal.

The most successful metro areas have distinctive specializations that enable local businesses to bloom, grow and attract others, Liu said.

“What do you produce? What do you make better than anybody else so people want to be here and not somewhere else?” Liu said.

Kevin Murphy, Berks County Community Foundation president, has posted the Berks County Community Economic Development Vision that was produced during the meeting here. We encourage your feedback on the related Facebook post here.