The Role of U.S. Counties in Economic Development

About the Author

Jonathan Morgan

Jonathan Morgan is a School of Government faculty member.

econ_dev_cover_thumbIn a recently released report, the National Association of Counties (NACo) examines the special role that county governments play in the process of economic development. The report’s findings are based on a national survey of U.S. counties and case studies of local economic development in 34 selected counties. The findings suggest that counties implement their economic development activities in a collaborative manner by working with other local governments, state government, nonprofits, regional organizations, and private sector entities.

County governments indicated that the top two areas of focus for economic development collaborations are workforce training and business recruitment. Counties responding to the NACo survey cited several workforce issues as being a challenge to their economic development efforts. These include unemployment/underemployment, skilled worker shortages, attraction/retention of young workers, and lack of adequate housing. Survey respondents noted other local challenges such as low access to business capital, dependence on a single industry, lack of land for development, and low-levels of engagement from business leaders as potential hindrances. The two most frequently cited infrastructure challenges reported are inadequate public transportation and availability of broadband internet services.

Three counties from North Carolina are included among the case studies conducted to highlight promising strategies and approaches to economic development that can help create stronger, more resilient communities. Catawba County’s efforts to promote and support data centers are profiled along with Halifax County’s strategy for diversifying its industrial base and Lee County’s industrial worker training initiatives.

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