I’d like to recommend a recent article in the Palm Beach Post that tells the story of the Tryon International Equestrian Center, located in Polk County, North Carolina. It is framed as a “missed opportunity” for the City of Wellington, Florida. Wellington is already a major player in the equestrian world, but missed the chance to host this new “Disneyland for equestrians” due to “a paralyzing political climate” and a lack of the kind of capacity for collaboration that this project required. On the other hand, it is a story of how working across boundaries is critically important in economic development.
The article offers many lessons for regional collaboration in economic development and what leadership looks like in that process. I highlight a few of those lessons below, but recommend the entire article.
- Humility is a key quality of collaborative leaders. The article notes that “local officials in western North Carolina said they quickly realized how unprepared they were for such an attraction in their backyard.” They worked as partners with the developers to learn what they needed to learn and did not hesitate to look to each other for answers.
- There really is power through partnership. The article states that the intergovernmental and intersectoral collaboration is “a never-before-seen partnership that crosses the boundaries of several cities, five counties and two states.” The partnering organizations are leveraging their respective strengths or assets.
- A regional mindset is key. The partnering local governments are not viewing the center in terms of competition. They are taking the long-view, realizing that the overall development to the region will eventually be a net benefit to the constituent parts.
In a time when smaller, rural communities are really struggling, the Tryon International Equestrian Center offers a counter-example. The center will produce an estimated $30-50 million of economic impact in its first year. And the key to this success is the willingness of several local governments to approach economic development regionally, to think in terms of partnership rather than competition.