The Phoenix Advantage Team has extensive experience in and outside of Virginia and offers a series of packages designed to help local economic development programs explore key issues, assess their readiness, and address opportunities and challenges in an affordable way. We believe that every local agency, whether a small one with limited resources, or a large one with a substantial and growing array of responsibilities, can benefit from experienced outside help targeted to current and future challenges and flash points.

We offer solutions designed to produce relatively swift and affordable results. Our methodology calls for starting with an analysis or exploration of a given issue area, which could then be followed with a comprehensive project to design and implement effective solutions.

Some of the ways in which we could engage include:

Start or Augment a Local ED Program on a Budget

In this era of COVID-induced economic strife, often the communities with the most urgent need to pursue economic development are the least able to afford the associated costs involved in supporting, and/or expanding a local economic development department. Increasingly, local governments are looking for ways to outsource their economic development programs. Opportunities now exist for smaller communities to contract with an outside firm for economic development services at a fraction of the cost of maintaining or growing a full-time staff and department.

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Launching and Strengthening a Local Economic Development Program

To sustain and grow their economies, successful communities need to achieve certain thresholds to be successful and must maintain those efforts over an extended period. There are three phases a community must pass through as they develop their economic development program: Building the Base, Going Proactive, and Maintaining a Cohesive Economic Development Program.

It should be noted that this outsourcing opportunity can be pilot tested one year at a time. While we recommend a three phase/three year timeline, it is possible to undertake a one year trial contract to test whether this methodology can give the community what it needs on a short, medium or longer term basis.

Building the Base: The first phase in program development

In the initial phase, successful programs developed by the community may meet some or all of the following criteria:

  • Outreach to assess the local business environment, including the unmet needs that exist within the community
  • Identification of existing programs, within and outside of local government that meet the needs identified during outreach/assessment
  • Provision of consistent, high value communication with businesses, as well as facilitating communication opportunities among businesses
  • Encouragement and advancement of an entrepreneurship culture within the local business community
  • Identification of ways to attract new and additional businesses based on the kinds of businesses the community wants to attract and the available infrastructure to support those businesses

Overall, the program development phase normally takes up to one year.

Create a Small Business Resiliency Program Using Your ARPA Funds

It is likely that your community has already received half of its allocated funding and that you may have made some tentative plans for how to use it. For those communities that wish to earmark some portion of these funds for bolstering businesses and economic development, there are more options available than previous programs offered, yet there are still guidelines and rules to be followed.

We offer an experienced team that has previously created local programs for communities under the CARES Act. We are helping our current clients to map out economic development support, funded by ARPA, that can make a difference, satisfy federal rules, and help facilitate a stronger, more resilient future for their community.

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While the American Rescue Plan was created to help mitigate the impacts of COVID, it has a strong component that is intended to help make businesses and local economies stronger and more resilient for the future and is considerably more flexible than the CARES Act funding. The leading edge for ARPA is the automatic allocations going to states, cities, counties, and other units of local government, which flow directly through and to local governments and leave considerable discretion on spending to local governments.

Program areas that we have set up and managed thus far include business grants and loans, infrastructure projects, technical assistance to businesses, workforce development, marketing/branding, voucher programs (to be spent in local establishments), and assistance to underserved businesses and populations.

Economic Development Strategy Evaluation and Needs Update

An Economic Development Strategy is an absolute necessity for any community. However, the job is not over once a strategy is put in place. Circumstances change, local economies evolve, technologies change, policy decisions shift, resources and business needs vary, and resources can fluctuate. Therefore, every strategy must evolve over time to reduce the risk of local programs becoming outdated and less efficient. A “Living Strategy” should be the optimal goal, one that can evolve on the fly, if possible. However, if that cannot work, at least a periodic update is needed to ensure that the local strategy is up to date and in touch with private sector resources and needs.

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Maintaining current data helps to keep a strategy relevant, but there is more to it than that: a sense for regional trends, national issues, local economic factors, technology options and evolving issues and techniques can help inform an updated strategy. For example, although workforce development has always been important, it has recently emerged as a dominant issue. The need to meet employer demands has ushered in a new era for local economic developers who, now more than ever, must take this factor into account when serving existing businesses and attracting new ones.

Phoenix Advantage has a team with deep experience in strategic planning, a potent network of public and private sector players and extensive knowledge of state-of-the-art Economic Development practices. Working with small and large cities and counties, urban and rural communities and public, not-for-profit and private organizations, the Phoenix Advantage team has hands on experience in cutting edge service delivery, ahead of the curve planning, partnership building, performance measurement and resource optimization. We will review your economic development strategy to identify and highlight areas that need updating, clarification and/or re-thinking.

Performance Measurement Review

The ability to develop and apply performance measures that adequately evaluate program effectiveness has become a critical component of economic development programs. Funding bodies constantly must do more with less, meaning that they expect their ED agencies to engage in rigorous performance measurement as a guide to efficient and effective allocation of limited resources. Most development agencies have been charged with the responsibility to develop and implement such measures.

The Phoenix Advantage team brings combined public and private sector experience of more than sixty years and has been intrinsically involved in crafting and implementing performance measures that help maximize agency efficiency and satisfy the needs of funding bodies.

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Appropriate performance measures vary dependent upon how well they align with intended outcomes. Unrealistic, inaccurate and/or excessive measures can constrain economic developers and may reduce efficiency by creating more work than is necessary. Often the best gauge of how viable your performance measures are, and how well they represent your results to the funding agency, is an outside opinion, based upon the experiences of outside teams of hands-on economic developers.

A phased engagement with Phoenix Advantage would initially involve a review of the economic development performance measures currently in use by the lead agency and by those who make policy and funding decisions. The team would then deliver a report that would assess the number, effectiveness, viability, utility, and relevance of current measures and would include suggestions on how to improve the system in use. A potential second phase would consist of developing a revamped set of performance measures and implementation of the same.

Create an Entrepreneurship Support System

Supporting aspiring entrepreneurs with tangible and practical assistance is critical to the success of a local economy. As such, a community has an opportunity to ensure that there is a steady flow of entrepreneurial activity to keep the local economy vibrant, healthy, and growing.

A successful business incubator or accelerator program is one way that a community can offer practical assistance, support and mentoring to local entrepreneurs and fledgling businesses as they begin or progress along their journey.

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Defined, a business incubator is a facility in which entrepreneurs can start a business from the initial concept phase with some practical supports, such as furnished private or semi-private offices, office equipment, and internet access. Free or inexpensive counseling and training is made available, but there is usually no set time frame within which a business must become successful and move out into their own space. A co-working (shared) workspace may be included as an option as part of the incubator experience as well.

Business accelerators are very similar, but they generally operate with a more structured program in place, with set timeframes in which a business works with a group of mentors to build their business. Ultimately, businesses “graduate” and may move out at the end of their program. These programs target existing businesses, often new or newly expanding firms.

In addition to technical support and mentoring, one of the many benefits of the incubator/accelerator concept is the opportunity for resident businesses to share ideas, collaborate, and learn from one another along their entrepreneurial journey.

As a community considers an incubator/accelerator program, one important decision is locating the program in an area where it is most likely to succeed.

A feasibility study would explore the viability of a business incubator/accelerator and where it should be located. The review would include an analysis of whether a physical facility is warranted, or whether a support network can be mounted without a physical facility.

Phoenix Advantage will complete a feasibility study to explore options for modeling a business incubator/accelerator program to fit local needs and opportunities, assess the chances for success, and identify the best path forward to make the program as effective as possible, including identifying ancillary services to support new and growing businesses, with or without a physical facility. Components of the study would include:

  • Analyze available data: key demographics and economic data
  • Review past entrepreneurship efforts and identify current resources for entrepreneurs in and around the community
  • Conduct interviews and focus groups with key individuals and organizations to assess whether a program is needed and is likely to succeed, as well as explore opportunities to amplify existing efforts
  • Deliver a report that summarizes the findings and makes recommendations.

How to Build a More Efficient, Demand-Driven Workforce Development Pipeline

Retaining, growing, launching, and attracting industry successfully depends on the ability of communities to meet employer workforce needs. Successful development of a workforce pipeline involves collaboration among strong partners from among, education, local government, employers, workforce development boards and workforce advocates.

Phoenix Advantage offers a program to strengthen the workforce development system and pipeline for a community to help meet needs of existing and prospective employers and to ensure that the local workforce faces minimal unemployment and under-employment challenges.

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For too long, most Workforce Development programs were supply-driven, training workers for skills and professions that were deemed important by policymakers. More recently, workforce development professionals, along with economic developers, have favored a demand-driven approach that placed an emphasis on employer needs.

The challenge today is to find ways to meet employer needs to allow for sustainability and growth, while giving workers the skills they need to find real jobs. This puts a great value on a comprehensive workforce development program. An initial engagement with Phoenix Advantage would position your community to create or augment your workforce development strategy:

  • Task One: Identify and Enlist Key Players; Build a Working Group
  • Task Two: Review and Catalog Employer Needs
  • Task Three: Utilize Data, Interviews and Surveys to Identify Available Workforce Resources
  • Task Four: Determine why the gaps, if any, exist and what could be done to close the gaps

This project would be a precursor to formulating and implementing a strategy that would allow for more efficient ways to address employer needs and provide workers with skills to match job opportunities.

Tourism Program Development

We are particularly sensitive to the needs and potential of the tourism industry to create jobs, investment and tax revenues.  In this sense, tourism development is closely linked to core economic development programs, can serve as introductions for business travelers to commercial opportunities, and can blend events with local economic development events.

Tourism-specific program areas where we can assist you include: event development, tourism-themed trail development, discount/value programs, destination wayfinding programs, business to business programs, marketing, communication/media, strategic tourism plan development, website/app development, SEO, and SEM strategies, and more.

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Tourism is one of the world’s top industries, generating investment, jobs, and tax revenues in record numbers; at least, until the recent pandemic.  Long considered a top five industry worldwide and in many years coming in as the number 1, 2 or 3 industry in nearly 40 states, the pandemic put a serious dent in the industry, which is working hard to rebound.

At a time like this, communities can use all the help they can get.  The American Rescue Plan has one tranche of money specifically for the travel and hospitality industry and localities can also use their SLFRF (entitlement ARPA money) for tourism-related projects.

Whether assisted by ARPA funds, local budgets or private donations, there are a number of ways that communities can boost their tourism programs and set them back on a path to success, or, in some cases, can help their tourism program rise to new heights.

We are particularly sensitive to the needs and potential of the industry, as tourism creates jobs, investment and tax revenues.  In this sense, tourism development is closely linked to core economic development programs, can serve as introductions for business travelers to commercial opportunities, and can blend events with local economic development events.

Tourism agencies are also engaging in business attraction, using incentives, creating strategies and developing their workforce, areas that parallel and/or overlap with traditional business development programs.  Many communities link or combine their tourism and economic development agencies and/or create private, not for profit tourism agencies, akin to what has happened with business development agencies in many places.

Tourism-specific program areas where we can assist you include programs along the lines of: event development, tourism themed trail development, discount/value programs, destination wayfinding programs, business to business programs, marketing, communication/media, strategic tourism plan development, website/app development, SEO, and SEM strategies.  

Phoenix Advantage offers a three person team with a combined experience totalling over 90 years of hands-on experience.  The team features senior partners who have worked the overlap between tourism and economic development, have found ways of building bridges that allow for greater collaboration between agencies, and have worked directly with businesses in the travel and tourism industry.

We are experienced in marketing, product development, workforce training, branding, and financing.  What’s more, we are experienced in the use of CARES Act and ARPA funds for planning and implementation.  Discover the Phoenix Advantage in stimulating your tourism program, attracting tourists and tourism venues and helping your tourism-related businesses to rise.

Communications/Brand and Marketing Strategy

Having a strong brand and well-organized multi-faceted marketing strategy will help your community attract new businesses, workforce, and residents, bolster existing businesses, and boost local tourism. Phoenix Advantage can help you assess your current brand marketing strategy, identifying ways you can improve and expand your efforts to enhance your community’s brand and reputation and reach your target audiences more effectively. With this information, we can help you create and implement an action plan that offers a measurable return on your marketing investment.

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Areas we will examine during our assessment include:

  • Community Brand:
    • Does your community have a strong brand identity? How do people perceive your community, both from within and without?
    • What are the aspects that make you unique and set you apart?
    • Does your website and other brand collateral accurately project the image you want to convey?
  • Target Audiences: What types of businesses and individuals do you want to attract to your community, and why? What do you have to offer each of these audiences?
  • Current Marketing: What platforms are you using to get the word out, and how effectively are you utilizing these platforms?
    • Video / Virtual Reality
    • Social Media and Influencers
    • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
    • Advertising (Digital, Print, Radio/TV)
    • Print Marketing
  • Measuring ROI: How are you measuring the effectiveness of your marketing efforts?

With the results from this assessment, we will partner with you to develop a strategy that balances the need to effectively reach your target audiences with your message without placing undue strain on department staff. We can also assist in implementing the strategy and offer reporting on a monthly or quarterly basis.

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