Partnering to put together the economic development puzzle

When was the last time that you opened a 2,000 piece puzzle? How did you begin putting it together? Of course, you laid the pieces out and began searching for similar colors, patterns, and shapes. Most master puzzle makers frame the outside first since it is easy to see the straight patterns and corners. Filling in the rest takes much more time and focus to assemble.

As you can imagine our economic picture is a big puzzle as well. There are many parts to it. It would be difficult to put it together if all that you saw were a few pieces. Likewise, it would be difficult to put it together without laying all of the pieces out to begin the framework. In essence, filling in the pieces takes a broad awareness and yet focused talent.

As I facilitated discussion at the 2012 Virginia Leadership Summit, one of the prominent business leaders pointed out the importance of being able to market regions in Virginia. He was referring to the ability to collaborate among local jurisdictions to bring more visibility and opportunity by working together. Competition for opportunity and economic prosperity is fierce nationally and globally. Our strength in working together is essential.

I spoke with Helen Cauthen, President & CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development recently about the role of TJPED in helping to put the pieces of the puzzle together in our region. The partnership’s geography is comprised of the cities, towns, and counties in the Planning District 9 (Culpeper and surrounding counties) and PD 10 (Charlottesville and surrounding counties). In addition to working with the public officials, the partnership includes both public and private partners, bringing education, business, and government together.

“As we approach our region, we work from an attitude of abundance” said Cauthen. “We have so many assets and opportunities; it is a matter of understanding priorities and then facilitating opportunity where it makes sense.”

The regional picture is difficult to see from either the silo of a locality or the broader view at the state level. Thus, as astutely pointed out in the Summit, we need a regional partner to help put the pieces together.

As we find ourselves in the reaches of the global marketplace, it is important to have a regional coherence. It is significant to have a workforce population to draw from that is 333,396 strong. It is obvious that not everyone that lives in a jurisdiction works in that same jurisdiction, thus it is important to aggregate the larger picture for prospective companies to bring jobs to our area.

One of the latest examples of the importance of the TJPED role was their facilitation of a Target Markets Report conducted by Younger Associates. The report was funded in large part by local governments, who paid smaller portions of the total $150,000 study. The benefit, as a group we were able to fund the quality and breadth of analysis for both localities and the region. Now each economic development office throughout the region is aware of their relative strengths and opportunities, evidence of a coherent strategy and attitude of abundance.

In addition to working as our regional economic development engine, TJPED is the administrator and fiscal agent for the Piedmont Workforce Network. The PWN mission is “linking resources and meeting employment needs” for the region. TJPED also hosts the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center. This center is much like the center that the Culpeper Department of Economic Development helps to support for the Culpeper area.

When it comes to the economic puzzle, TJPED is a critical part in developing economic opportunity in our region. The target markets report helped to frame the puzzle. Our localities now have the information, resources, and support to fill in their individual pieces with the strength of a regional catalyst, TJPED. Go to for more information.