March 2011 Featured Article
Strategic Planning and Economic Development Planning for Your Municipality
“Failing to plan is planning to fail;” this saying, which planners often use, is now more important than ever. These difficult economic times for New Jersey’s municipalities are not in short demand. The national spotlight for decreased spending and large budget cuts are at the top of both the Democrat and Republican agendas. Budgets are shrinking and there is growing public demand to trim public budgets to pre-recession levels. The era of pork barrel spending and generous fringe benefits of public sector jobs may be coming to an end. So how can strategic and economic development planning help your municipality through difficult economic times? In order to answer this, we will go through the steps of strategic and economic development planning and identify the strengths of this exercise as it is related to municipal budgets and planning.
Many people think that planning decisions are limited to the planning or zoning board which determine what land uses should be allowed in your community; but this is not true. Planning should be used in every aspect of municipal government to derive a vision and goals from all aspects of the community, and create a strong foundation for local government, businesses, non-profits and citizens.
What are the steps in developing an effective strategic plan for your municipality?
Step 1: Stakeholder Commitment - The foundation of strategic/economic development planning rests on those that are involved in the process. Typically those that usher the process along are called the stakeholders, and include people from all aspects of the community: elected officials, businesses, non-profit organizations and citizens. Obtaining the commitment and leadership from the stakeholders is essential to completing and implementing a strategic plan.
Step 2: Developing a Vision Statement for the Community - Defining the vision of the community is an important step. It declares the objectives of the strategic planning process and will lead the community during the process. An example of a broad and effective vision statement is: “A Great Place to Live for All of Our Citizens”. Adding several subtitles can help interpret this broad vision statement by adding specificity while defining your regional goal for the community.
Step 3: Determine Local Priorities – As with the entire planning process, this task should focus on input from all sectors of the community, from non-profit organization to for profit business as well as local citizens and government officials. This task should also include an analysis of strengths and weaknesses, as well as the opportunities and threats to the community. This analysis is also called a SWOT Analysis, and helps to derive the local priorities of the community.
Step 4: Determine Goals – Determining goals is important to achieving the priorities of the community. Goals are essentially the tasks the community needs to achieve to realize the mission and vision of their community. It is important to hone in on realistic goals and “low hanging fruit” to keep the community motivated and forward thinking through the process.
Step 5: Developing an Action Plan – Documenting an action plan paves the way for completing the goals defined and the parties that are responsible to achieve each task. These tasks along with follow-up meetings that usher the process along are also important steps. The action plan is the living document that will help create accountability as well as a time frame for achieving the goals and priorities in earlier steps.
Step 6: Document the Plan – Documenting the planning process as well as the goals and action plans are an important final step in the formal strategic planning process. This step provides a recount of how the process was completed and the parties that impacted the development of the plan. Additionally, it acts as the framework for completing the goals outlined within the plan.
The planning process does not stop when the strategic plan is documented. In fact, this is when the real work beings. The beauty of the strategic planning process is that the report becomes a working and living document that can be used as a guide for everyone who has responsibility and a vested interest in the community. Holding meetings for each committee created as a result of the priorities are important actions that will help the community achieve their goals in a fashion that coincides with the priority of each goal.
Strategic planning is not just for corporations anymore. Fiscal responsibility and accountability is the new form of government that citizens demand, and New Jersey is leading the way for this new government mentality. Creating a strategic plan, developing priorities and allocating resources based on a series of well-defined priorities is both reasonable and increasingly necessary; so why not start a strategic planning process in your community?
Triad Associates is currently the League’s Grant Consulting Firm. Their firm, which is known for its expertise in community and economic development, including strategic planning, redevelopment, acquisition, relocation and funding, has brought diverse plans and projects to life by generating more than $580,000,000 for over 120 public, private and nonprofit clients throughout the Northeast region since 1978. Every member of the Triad team is personally committed and dedicated to the success of its clients and the projects that benefit communities.
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