Place-based Economic Development Toolkit

Ross DeVol, Maryann Feldman, Avery Nims, Rodrigo Ramirez-Perez, Minoli Ratnatunga, Andrew Schrank


Ross DeVol, President and CEO

I have spent much of my career advocating for the subject of this research. The good news is that the federal government is finally responding in a way to assist communities. Federal funding agencies such as National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and many other federal agencies’ position has been that they invest in the best science and scientists —people— and not places.

The result has been that the same universities and research centers have received the funding for decades and commercialized it to build the top technology clusters located predominantly on the coasts.

I visited the halls of Congress to advocate the federal funding agencies had been funding places for decades, but never admitted it. Others shared my position and the Senate and House created the Endless Frontiers Act to invest in science in places. Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senator Young of Indiana introduced this legislation. This evolved into the CHIPs and Science Act and passed with bipartisan support—a rare occurrence in D.C. It funded the EDA’s Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs (Tech Hubs). Build Back Better Regional Challenge was passed by the Biden Administration as well. And the NSF initiated its own Regional Innovation Engines.

Below is a map of heartland location that are receiving some of this funding. Note the number—43. Heartland communities can use these funds to enhance the innovation in their local economies. Nearly $2 trillion will be dispersed across the nation.

Place-based economic development uses an area’s unique identity and sense of place as a competitive advantage for creating and sustaining growth, and involves policies tailored to regional characteristics.

Place-based economic development offers a better way to invest in and create jobs where Americans choose to live. It is certainly needed, as half of the nation’s high-paying jobs are in just 30 (1%) U.S. counties.

We need to think differently. Investing in places and competing on advantages — like a skilled workforce or an abundance of related supplier firms — provides an alternative to offering incentives to firms, factories and warehouses for relocating to an area. This practice of “buying” employment growth, job quality and tax revenue rarely works out well. Firms can move again when incentives expire.

We advocate for building capacity: Community capacity, firm and industry capacity, entrepreneurial capacity and innovation infrastructure capacity.

It discusses how to construct a regional profile, identify target industries for development, assess a regional industry’s maturity and build effective partnership. Further, case studies are including as leading examples of how to implement successful strategies.

Additionally, don’t forget the importance of selling the quality of life in a place-based strategy.

  • Elements that promote quality of place
  • Art and music institutions
  • Thriving restaurant and culinary scene 
  • Recreation and lifestyle amenities
  • Health care access and quality
  • Cultural and religious institutions
  • Transportation mobility 
  • K-12 education
  • Universities
  • Crime rates.
  • Social and cultural capital are ingredients for cohesive and sustainable communities.

This research helps us fulfill our mission to serve as a resource for policy makers based upon cutting edge applied economic analysis.