Preparation of a comprehensive economic development strategy, or CEDS, is a cornerstone of the US Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) grant program. At its most fundamental level, a CEDS is an implementation-focused plan designed to identify and prioritize economic development opportunities in a community or region. It is also a prerequisite for the designation of an economic development district (EDD), a designation that opens the door to federal planning funds. While the prioritization and groundwork a CEDS provides is important, it’s the locally based and inclusive planning process required by the EDA that transforms the CEDS into a tool for building capacity, spurring economic prosperity, and promoting resiliency.
Along with a broadly representative planning process, the EDA requires these strategic plans to contain specific elements, including a summary background, SWOT analysis, strategic direction, action plan, and evaluation framework. The strategy must also consider ways to avoid, withstand, and recover from economic shocks or natural disasters. In addition to these minimum requirements, a successful CEDS leverages other relevant planning efforts. By aligning priorities across organizations and interests, a CEDS should help an area or region use its resources more effectively and efficiently. To retain EDD status, each CEDS must be updated every five years. This keeps plans current and encourages communities to reevaluate strategies based on changing conditions and priorities.
In keeping with the EDA’s investment priorities, a CEDS can impact areas from workforce development to technology-based economic development and manufacturing. For example, a thoughtful CEDS process can facilitate stronger alignment among private sector leaders and workforce training programs to support skills development activities and establish clear career pathways that meet local job market needs. Through the technology-based economic development investment priority, strategies may include support to entrepreneurs and startups that are creating the high-skilled, well-paying jobs of the future. It can also shape manufacturing industry support systems to encourage business expansion and productivity growth. In essence, a CEDS serves as a roadmap for decision making by identifying and prioritizing a wide range of projects and initiatives that support economic growth and job creation.
A CEDS should also play an essential role in bringing those projects and initiatives to fruition. At a minimum, having a current CEDS in place means regions are better positioned to access additional funding and technical assistance from EDA for implementation. The agency’s July 2021 funding opportunity, Investing in America’s Communities, is an example. The $3 billion initiative, funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), provided direct aid programs ranging from training workers for in-demand jobs to aiding the recovery of communities that rely on travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation sectors. A well-crafted CEDS can also be used to pursue funding from other federal agencies for major projects, such as workforce training (US Department of Labor), broadband expansion (US Department of Agriculture), and infrastructure investments (US Department of Housing and Urban Development).
In summary, as a regionally focused economic development planning document, a CEDS provides an essential mechanism for engaging diverse populations, increasing cross-sector collaboration, leveraging federal funds, and maximizing the benefit of economic development for residents and businesses.
This is the first installment in a four-part series about the creation of a successful CEDS, including EDA requirements, community engagement, equity, and resiliency.