2024 IEDC Leadership Summit: Takeaways & Trends

Phoenix, Arizona skyline with mountains behind it.

Last month, I attended the IEDC Leadership Summit in Phoenix. The Summit’s plenary session typified the conference as a whole. It provided food for thought across a range of subjects, including a panel on clean energy featuring TIP’s managing partner Jon Roberts, Randall Kemper from the Aspen Institute, and Aaron Brickman from RMI. The session made a strong case for economic development organizations (EDOs) to embrace climate issues and the environmental risks that are a top concern for Gen Z entrants to the workforce.

Here are three other takeaways I’m still thinking about.

1. High-performing regions share several traits, but collaboration is among the most important.

Successful regions stand out for their ability to tackle substantial challenges collectively. I participated in a panel organized by Guillermo Mazier of the Financial Times, alongside Serena Remy (Greater Phoenix Economic Council), Jennifer Wakefield (Greater Richmond Partnership), and Amanda Taylor (Greater MSP) who offered insights into best-in-class EDOs. Focusing on five characteristics of high-performing regions—self-awareness, action-oriented mindset, adept storytelling, data-driven decision-making, and international acumen—the discussion highlighted how collaboration threads through each, indicating an openness to experimentation and innovation.

Reflecting on TIP’s past work, I chose to spotlight Fort Wayne-Allen County and the surrounding 11-county Northeast Indiana region. Despite facing decades of population decline, a commitment to regional collaboration and data-driven strategies catalyzed a remarkable turnaround. Led by Greater Fort Wayne Inc., a focus on downtown revitalization and placemaking transformed the region from a talent exporter to a talent magnet. This shift culminated in Allen County Together—a visionary 10-year economic development roadmap crafted by TIP in collaboration with stakeholders. Additional initiatives, led by Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and the Regional Chamber of Northeast Indiana, built on this momentum. They have already secured $50 million from the State of Indiana for quality of place projects and an additional $15 million annually over five years to increase wages, population, and educational attainment. Fort Wayne-Allen County’s success underscores how collaboration, coupled with data-driven strategies, can drive sustainable economic growth and prosperity in regions facing significant challenges.

2. A focus on reshoring and domestic production is not at odds with international business development.

The conference also spotlighted foreign direct investment (FDI) and international business development, demonstrating the prevailing interest in global opportunities. Amid discussions about fostering international relationships, I was struck by the synergy between initiatives aimed at reshoring and domestic production and efforts related to international business development. The push for business expansion projects in the US, buoyed by federal investments such as the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, complements international business development in sometimes unexpected ways. Notably, foreign-based companies spearheading expansion projects in the US are integral to the burgeoning “made in America” strategy. Instances abound, like TSMC’s investment in semiconductor plants in Greater Phoenix, Samsung’s semiconductor fabs expansion in Greater Austin, or Nissan’s venture into EV production at its Mississippi plant. These examples underscore how international companies contribute to the fabric of American manufacturing and economic growth.

Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona further illuminated the interconnectedness of global economies and the US government’s efforts to stabilize supply chains of corporate and national security importance. Pointing to ongoing tensions with China, he noted that our GDP could face a 10 percent reduction with a loss in access to Taiwanese semiconductors. Legislative acts like the CHIPS Act play a pivotal role in addressing such challenges by incentivizing onshore fabrication. As discussions delved into policy considerations and potential reauthorizations, the takeaway was clear. Strong domestic production fosters a symbiotic relationship with international business development efforts, strengthening both regional economies in the US and those of our global partners.

3. Greater Phoenix is a region where cross-jurisdictional collaboration is paying off.

Phoenix was the ideal place to host the Leadership Summit, serving as a case study in how regional collaboration combined with a global orientation can yield tangible results. Greater Phoenix is growing faster than any other major US metro outside of the Texas IH-35 corridor. I was impressed by the amount of construction underway. Residential development; the density of Arizona State University’s downtown campus; the numerous hotels, restaurants, and bars; and infrastructure investments like the light rail from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to downtown contribute to an increasingly vibrant urban district. In addition to the positive experience in and around downtown Phoenix, the conference featured sessions highlighting regional strengths. I especially enjoyed the panel featuring elected leaders from Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, and El Mirage who are working together to address cross-jurisdictional transportation, workforce development, and water conservation issues. For example, a $24 billion bond package for regional transportation improvements is on the ballot this November, underscoring the collective commitment to fostering growth and connectivity.

The international dimension of Phoenix’s development was also palpable through efforts to strengthen connections with and between foreign companies, workers, and investors. I learned about El Grito Festival Hermosillo, a celebration of Mexican Independence Day organized by Councilwoman Betty Guardado. The free event is held downtown in partnership with the city’s business community, including the Phoenix Suns, Sky Harbor, Southwest Gas, Downtown Phoenix Inc., and the Salt River Project. The City has also tripled its Sister Cities budget in the last year, strengthening connections with Grenoble, France; Hermosillo, Mexico; Himeji, Japan; Prague, Czech Republic; Ramat-Gan, Israel; Suwon, South Korea; and Taipei Taiwan. It’s worth noting that Phoenix began its Sister Cities relationship with Taiwan in 1979, before TSMC even existed. This points to the importance of cross-cultural connections in site selection decisions like those pivotal to the FDI that helped Greater Phoenix become a globally competitive region for semiconductor industry investments. Building on its momentum as an emerging hub for the biosciences, technology, sustainability, and defense sectors, the City is launching the Phoenix Global Forum in May. By examining solutions already in development, the event will work to foster innovation, investment, and ecosystem-building through cross-border collaboration.

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