Unlocking Opportunities with Economic Development Organizations

Economic development organizations (EDOs) are an important part of the equation for bringing jobs and businesses to a particular geographic area, be it a city, county or state. They can be agencies established and funded by the government, or non-governmental alliances of businesses and institutions working together to bring economic growth to their markets.

Why explore EDOs?

Especially at the state level, EDOs are often the first point of contact that foreign buyers, investors and corporations have with U.S. markets. While foreign nationals are usually familiar with major American cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, they may know next to nothing about other destinations.

EDOs, public and private

Agencies promoting economic development exist at many levels of the public sector, from national down to local cities and counties. At the national level, the largest is the U.S. Department of Commerce. For global agents, the agencies that can be most helpful are those at the state level or even closer to your local market.

Economic development at the state level

State-level EDOs reach out abroad and put a face on various parts of the U.S. They may have satellite offices in other countries to promote their state and the advantages of doing business there. Getting involved in EDO activities can make you the first local real estate agent a foreign buyer encounters.

These offices are tasked with fostering economic development and sustainable job growth across the state. Much of their activity will be focused on domestic endeavors, like supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses, channeling funding for job training, and pursuing corporate investment in state-based facilities that generate local jobs.

Increasingly, state EDOs are also looking for investors outside their state—and beyond the U.S. In doing so, they compete with other states for investment from abroad. States whose economies were once dominated by dying industries have redirected their attention to target sectors that will grow and attract foreign manufacturers. Outbound, they are encouraging local firms to develop export markets. In both cases, industries rely upon EDOs to reach out globally to push and pull business to and from the state.

A state-level EDO’s international goals include:

  • building public-private partnerships
  • attracting targeted industries and investments
  • extending global awareness of the area through public relations, trade missions, etc.
  • attracting foreign direct investment
  • generating interest in site selection by international companies
  • conducting outbound foreign trade missions and hosting inbound foreign delegations

To find each state’s economic development organization, refer to a list maintained by the Small Business Administration on their website at sba.gov/content/economic-development-agencies.

Regional EDOs

Local agencies promote economic development in smaller targeted regions, often a city, county, or multi-county area. Smaller agencies seeking international investment tend to do so in conjunction with efforts by their state EDO. For instance, they may participate in joint marketing efforts for site selection purposes or publicize state-level EDO events to their local constituents.

Some of the functions they provide include:

  • hosting networking events
  • workforce development
  • direction in obtaining funding
  • information on local demographics, economic indicators and competitive advantages

Private sector EDOs

There are also private non-profit organizations whose goal is to promote the local economy. They may receive funding from corporations seeking to promote international trade and foreign direct investment in that area or they may be self-sup-porting through their members.

Local and regional Chambers of Commerce are examples of this type of EDO. It is not unusual in areas seeking international investment for the city or county Chamber of Commerce to be working with their state EDO on initiatives to attract funds from abroad. Some Chambers are large enough that they can reach out internationally through sponsoring trade missions for their members. For example, the Colombia–Texas Chamber of Com-merce in Houston, Texas will host a trade mission to Bogota, Colombia in November 2014.

A more recent development is a network of organizations called World Trade Centers. These are private, non-profit organizations promoting international trade and foreign direct investment in their areas. The World Trade Center Kansas City, for example, promotes international business relations around the globe and is sponsored by Kansas City companies both domestic and foreign-owned, like Black and Veatch, Bayer CropScience, and Commerce Bank.

Other Examples

World Trade Center Los Angeles/Long Beach

WTC Los Angeles/Long Beach is the leading international trade resource in the Los Angeles region. It is part of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, a private non-profit organization, and promotes Los Angeles County as a destination for foreign direct investment.

Learn more at laedc.org/wtc.

World Trade Center Utah, Salt Lake City

This WTC works with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) to increase the state’s international trade and attract foreign investment. Trade missions are one of their big initiatives. For example, in late-October 2014, the WTC Utah will conduct trade missions to the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

See wtcutah.com.

Arizona Commerce Authority, Phoenix

The Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) is a public-private sector partnership whose mission is to grow and strengthen Arizona’s economy. Its international efforts are primarily focused on attracting foreign direct investment. Most of their outreach resources can be found under “International Business Services” at azcommerce.com/locate/international-business-services.

They also provide Arizona businesses with programs to pursue global trade including trade missions, prospect identification and trade shows. See azcommerce.com/programs/international-trade.

Mobile, Alabama Chamber of Commerce

Mobile, Alabama is one of the country’s oldest and largest ports. Founded on shipping, much of it with other nations, the city has deep cultural roots across many nationalities. This international flavor is reflected in the scope of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce (mobilechamber.com/economic-development/international-trade-2/), which offers numerous programs aimed at supporting the city’s global reach.

“From both an educational and networking standpoint, Mobile’s International Trade Leadership Series is outstanding,” says Mia Burmeister, CIPS, Associate Broker at Bellator Real Estate and Development of Mobile, Alabama. “They cover export planning and research, logistics and documentation, international financing and insurance, and the legal aspects of international business. Seminars like these attract executives and business leaders across many industries and give agents an opportunity to learn about individual companies—and brainstorm with other executives on creative ways to grow international exposure.”

More Ways to Get Involved

There are many channels to explore for leveraging your involvement with economic development organizations. Consider these options:

At the state level

Look for the division or department that is responsible for building global connections. Each state structures its website differently. More than one area may contain the information you are looking for, so some digging may be required. Many states have a tab on their home page that references international or global trade. Other states may put international trade information under other divisions.

Closer to home

City or local Chambers of Commerce may be your best way to find connections to global business. Burmeister recommends joining your Chamber and getting onto any international or governmental affairs committees you can. She is on the Partners for Growth Council which places her first in line for referrals coming from the state-level EDO and lets her meet incoming business leaders as they enter her area, as well as the Government Affairs Committee of the Mobile Area Association of REALTOR®, which “puts me in touch with legislative activities and global issues at the state level.”If your Chamber of Commerce has global leanings, it will probably be working with public EDOs to help expand the international reach of its member businesses. Get involved in their international committee, if they have one. Even if they don’t, search out members with global business dealings. Look for businesses that export or import, or manufacture and have global suppliers. Most businesses have some ties to business abroad.


After investigating local economic development resources, start making contacts, attending events and seminars and actively engaging with other members to determine where their interests intersect with your own. “You have to do more than just scratch the surface,” says Burmeister. “Other businesspeople won’t know about your global interests unless you get the word out and tell them. When you do, you’ll begin to build a network of contacts with similar interests and the potential to develop mutually beneficial relationships.”

Trade missions

To turbo-charge your global business, consider participating in outbound trade missions. They are a terrific way to become feet-on-the-ground familiar with other cultures and business practices. Trips are most often organized and sponsored by state-level EDOs, but sometimes through larger local Chambers or regional EDOs. Taking part in a trade mission usually requires investing in overseas travel. If your global practice is new, remember that the payoff is a long-term one and will depend on follow-up to cultivate relationships with the foreign nationals you’ll meet abroad.

REALTOR® organizations

You may also learn about relevant EDOs through a Global Business Council. If your local Association of REALTORS® has one, make a point of getting involved. Even if it doesn’t, consider establishing a relationship with another Council nearby so you can network through their contacts. The more people you meet, the more you will learn about their experiences with state and local EDOs and other resources who might be valuable contacts regarding specific activities.

Helping your EDO

Working with an economic development organization is a two-way street. They can help you leverage your global business, but you’ll maximize your relationship if you’re also contributing to their efforts. For example, Tim Hur, CIPS, President’s Liaison to South Korea and President, Point Honors and Associates of Atlanta, Georgia has found that EDOs need direct input from local business people for structuring their marketing content.“You can assist an EDO in selling the area to clients by providing demographics and pertinent information about the local area, like ethnic restaurants, grocery stores, religious centers and services,” says Hur. “Hopefully, when clients and executives from foreign companies visit your market, the EDO will give them your name so you can assist with their housing needs.”

The payoff

Economic development organizations can have a multiplier effect on your presence to international clients considering investing in your market. Through discovering which EDOs are offering programs targeting global business and working with the programs and people involved in them, you will gain the contacts, expertise and reputation to be known as a truly global agent.

Hidden Gems

Economic development organizations, especially at the state level, can be excellent sources for data on foreign direct investment and other aspects of cross-border business development. Among the resources you may find on these organizations’ websites:

  • Educational series on international trade
  • Lead generation and prospect screening services
  • Translation and interpreter services
  • Links to relevant trade organizations at other levels
  • Market research and trade data
  • Maps and interactive tools

Outside the U.S.

Economic development organizations, both public and private, can be found across the globe. Most larger European cities have Chambers of Commerce that actively cultivate cross-border relationships and major cities on every continent have economic development agencies that foster export business and foreign direct investment in specific industries.

One of the easiest ways to connect to international business opportunities is via inbound trade missions. Ask your local Chamber or government agency about upcoming trips. The delegation may include members of a foreign Chamber of Commerce, U.S. agents from a state or local REALTOR® association and prominent local business leaders, all excellent points of contact for building ties to a specific locale.

Make it a point to participate in other globally-focused events, such as trade seminars, training courses and outbound trade missions. For instance, in late 2014 the London Chamber of Commerce will hold a trade and investment forum on the Baltic States and lead a trade mission to Qatar in anticipation of its hosting of the 2022 World Cup. In 2015, missions to India, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the East Coast of the United States are also proposed.

If you’re interested in cultivating ties in the U.S. or Canada, identify trade offices or representatives based in your country. They can provide area-specific promotional materials and put you in touch with relevant business people in large cities. For U.S. state trade offices, go to mbda.gov/legal-case-summaries/move-inc-v-real-estate-alliance-ltd-class-action-rejected-in-mapping-patent-lawsuit. For Canadian trade offices, go to tradecommissioner.gc.ca/eng/offices-worldwide.jsp.

Don’t Be Fooled by Names

Economic development organizations share a common mission of promoting regional strategies, partnerships and solutions that build the competitiveness of their local economy. While their objectives are similar, their names can vary dramatically, including these and other terms:

  • Growth Alliance
  • Economic Council
  • Planning District
  • Regional Development Authority plus Coalitions, Partnerships and Forums
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Global Perspectives in Real Estate is a resource for global professionals, aimed at helping them globalize their local markets. Produced bi-monthly, this newsletter serves as a how-to guide and is full of useful and actionable tips. A free subscription is given to all Certified International Property Specialists (CIPS) designees.

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