A blueprint for opportunity is devised by and for the community it serves. While data analysis is important to determining trends, assets and challenges, input from local businesses and employees gives this analysis much-needed context. By providing a platform for community members to share their expertise and new ideas, we hope to generate a universal understanding of economic opportunity among public, private, and governmental partners. This process of convening local stakeholders is reflective of our broader mission to build meaningful relationships between industry players, service providers and anchor institutions. Our conversations with the following groups represent the beginning of a long-term effort to foster community engagement.
To arrive at a firm understanding of the City’s many assets and challenges, we at the City of Lynchburg hosted a series of roundtable discussions on a detailed list of topics. Over the course of the interview process, we gave equal voice to public stakeholders, private partners and community service providers. To fortify our efforts, we enlisted Steven Pedigo, a nationally recognized economic development strategy consultant who has advised and collaborated with more than 50 cities, universities, developers, nonprofits and Fortune 500 companies to build more creative, innovative and inclusive communities. Our efforts also tapped into the expertise of the following key players:
- Steering Committee. The steering committee consisted of Economic Development Authority (EDA) members, local businesses, major employers, universities and entrepreneurs. The group met monthly to determine the overall direction of the project and offer advice on benchmarks, research conclusions, cluster strengths, target industries, strategy, vision and implementation. As champions of the City’s economic development strategy, these members will spearhead its execution alongside the Office of Economic Development and Tourism and other City departments.
- City Council and the Economic Development Authority. Conversations with the Lynchburg City Council helped to define the factors influencing today’s economic development efforts. The Council also weighed in on the City of Lynchburg’s unique challenges as an independent city and helped identify various benchmarks. Moving forward, these leaders will continue to provide input for our economic development strategy and help identify resources needed to support the plan. As elected and appointed community members, they serve as a direct line between the Lynchburg Office of Economic Development and Tourism and the public.
- Startup and Entrepreneurship. We met with local entrepreneurs, small business support organizations and founders of local businesses to consider what makes the City of Lynchburg a unique environment for entrepreneurship. In addition to identifying certain action steps, our conversation pinpointed target clusters that have demonstrated the greatest need for talent or capital.
- Industry. Our conversation with Lynchburg’s leading employers focused on the factors influencing development across industry sectors. In addition to discussing the City’s advantages, including its skilled workforce and engaged business community, we addressed various challenges such as a lack of transportation or airport connectivity, insufficient talent pipelines and real estate constraints.
- Brain Gain. We met with workforce development professionals, K-12 educators, local employers and members of the creative class to discuss what makes City of Lynchburg an appealing place to live and work. Our conversation centered on methods of talent attraction and retention, particularly with regard to creating “boomerang” citizens (those who return to the city where they once lived). Additionally, we focused on ways to improve Lynchburg’s skills pipeline by connecting local businesses to workforce development opportunities.
- Tourism and Placemaking. Our tourism and placemaking session convened tourism officials, Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) representatives, restaurant owners, historical site operators, recreation companies and downtown promoters. Together, they discussed how to leverage Lynchburg’s “quality of place” assets to drive economic development. Participants also addressed obstacles to making Lynchburg an ideal destination for tourists.
- Neighborhoods and Urban Renewal. Our conversation on neighborhoods and urban renewal convened local real estate professionals, community developers and planners, and community advocates. Their discussion recognized City of Lynchburg as a collection of neighborhoods that requires a strategy for inclusive prosperity, which prioritizes the needs of all citizens.