The Guilford County Economic Development Strategy

I largely wrote this Strategic Plan for Guilford County, published in 2005, to highlight new ways of thinking about economic development. Though some of the wording is dated, many of the concepts presented here are still a bit foreign to older ED practitioners and elected officials.

A New Model for Economic Development:

The Guilford County Economic Development Strategy

In June 2003 the Board of Commissioners directed staff to update the county’s comprehensive plan. That effort generated Framework for the Future: Guilford 2020 – A Fiscal Impact Analysis and Economic Development Strategy. A primary objective of the effort was to assess the county’s present economic situation and provide strategies to enhance the county’s competitive positioning in the future.

Guilford County Community and Economic Development presents this report to be incorporated into the Framework for the Future document and recommends strategies to enhance Guilford County’s economic development efforts. These strategies are a result of expertise and research by Community and Economic Development staff. This report presents a new economic development philosophy that is centered on workforce development, job creation, higher wage rates and prosperity.

Traditionally, economic development efforts were measured simply by the number of jobs created. In today’s economic development world, job creation is merely one factor to consider. Living wage rates, rising wage rates, environmentally sound local practices, rising educational attainment, basic infrastructure needs, including wireless connectivity —all have become critical components of a successful local economic development landscape. The quality of place – that subjective term for how others perceive a location – has become a more critical factor than ever. The role that county government plays can impact the development and ultimate outcome of that economic development portrait. After taking into account all of the different goals that are important to Guilford County, the primary goal of all economic development efforts can be boiled down to one basic concept:

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The End of Mediocre Private College

My article, published in the March-April, 2013 edition of The Futurist magazine, the official publication of the World Future Society.


On May 18, 2012, the President of Chester College in Chester, New Hampshire announced that the small arts-oriented college was going to close for good at the end of the semester. Last-ditch fundraising efforts and finger-pointing at the school’s administration were natural parts of the school’s final days as the reality of poor finances and low enrollment finally took its toll. Nearby colleges of similar educational types graciously (but eagerly) welcomed Chester’s student transfers, generously offering “the same tuition, board and fees” as the closing college.

The title of this article is not intended to cast aspersions toward the academic quality of Chester. It would take more than some Monday-morning quarterbacking to properly assess all the factors that led to the closing. However, in most cases (and it appears to be the case with Chester College), the biggest obstacle to overcome is financial. Being cash-poor and deep in debt is harder to cure than creating an academic revival.

The lack of both short-term and long-term financial sustainability has become pervasive in the ranks of small colleges. The “mediocrity” related to poor finances, once achieved, is very difficult to overcome. In many other situations, the mediocrity is truly academic and that aspect puts those schools at a competitive disadvantage related to trends that are now coming into play. Either or both of these factors threaten the existence of hundreds of private colleges across the U.S. But since the onset of the economic slowdown four years ago, the weak signals that were emerging have become full-blown trends that will soon have huge ramifications for higher education in the U.S.

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