BY SHARON HILLSTROM

Kodak was a household name for generations before the company lost the race to digital photography. The U.S. auto industry suffered sharp declines when Toyota and Honda captured the growing market for less expensive and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

What happened in both cases? Let’s see, complacency, lack of attention to the competition, or I’d refer to it as “a failure to pivot.”

Organizations must be ready to take the calculated risk of pivoting to be competitive and relevant in changing times. Economic development is no different.

For example, in the past, economic development organizations resisted involvement with workforce development. Attracting, nurturing and retaining talent in a community was someone else’s job.

Today we are in the thick of collaborating on workforce development strategies from education, to training, to talent attraction. It’s imperative because our clients – companies seeking to expand or locate in Manatee County – tell us that workforce issues are their number one challenge.

Customer demand is just one reason to pivot. Often, external forces drive internal change.

The Great Recession was one of those forces. Manatee County Government rose to the occasion with a dramatic pivot a decade ago. From the top-down, the culture became customer-centered. Rather than hearing “no, we’ve never done that,” the county’s customers heard “yes, let’s figure out a way to make this work.”

The county’s permitting process was overhauled, becoming more responsive. A more robust and finely tuned rapid response permitting program brought all departments to the table to help businesses complete facilities sooner and hire more employees faster. Commissioners embraced a performance-based system of incentives to encourage businesses to hire more employees and pay higher wages.

Responding to increased competition also can necessitate a pivot, something we know well in our business. According to the International Economic Development Council, we are competing globally with more than 5,000 economic development organizations, all vying for companies and jobs.

We determined that we needed to pivot from being reactive to being proactive in marketing Manatee County as a location for targeted businesses in growth industries, that fit well with our community.

Like the Convention and Visitors Bureau, we changed our brand to “Bradenton Area” in response to market research showing that our external audience recognized “Bradenton” more readily than “Manatee County.”

We also launched an aggressive outreach strategy combining digital and in-person tactics to drive inbound company visits from businesses considering expansions and relocations.

Since 2009, working with the county and our other partners in the region, we’ve assisted 159 companies with relocations and expansions. Those companies are projected to add nearly 7,000 jobs paying over $2 billion in wages. As important, they plan to make local capital investments exceeding $950 million.

Those results are possible because we’ve taken calculated risks that have paid off for the community in jobs, wages, consumer spending and a stronger tax base.

Identifying the need to pivot requires a heads-up approach to anticipating opportunities and external forces that are likely to change your business environment. Understanding global, national and local economic trends can help prepare your organization for change.

On January 23, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation and Hancock Whitney will host Florida economist Henry H. Fishkind, Ph.D., at our annual Economic Forecast Breakfast. Always insightful and entertaining, Fishkind’s analysis may reveal opportunities and threats that inspire change and growth in your organization. For details and to register, visit www.BradentonAreaEDC.com/Events.