Strengthen the Economic Development Element within a Comprehensive Plan

A comprehensive plan serves as a policy document that provides a blueprint for future land use and development. Comprehensive plans are the most powerful tool that local governments can use to direct future land use and development. State law (22 Delaware Code §702) requires Delaware municipal governments to develop and regularly update comprehensive plans to “[encourage] the most appropriate uses of physical and fiscal resources of the municipality and the coordination of municipal growth, development, and infrastructure investment actions with those of other municipalities, counties and the State.”

Economic development may be discussed within a specific element (i.e., section), of a comprehensive plan, or within several elements. First and foremost, a community vision for economic development should be developed through a public engagement process, which involves a diverse group of citizens and stakeholders, to articulate community values and preferences for growth and development.  Visioning “what a community wants to be when it grows up,” can be achieved through a SWOT analysis where stakeholders assess the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats for economic development success. Community Asset Mapping is another strategy that can engage stakeholders in developing an economic development vision.

Delaware’s Office of State Planning Coordination (OSPC) has prepared Municipal Planning Checklists to help municipal governments meet the requirements of state laws regarding planning. Delaware municipalities are required to analyze the redevelopment potential for their communities within their comprehensive plan. It is strongly suggested that the analysis include an inventory of areas within the community in need of revitalization or redevelopment. State law requires that the redevelopment potential analysis provide a redevelopment strategy that includes “a set of policies, statements, goals, and planning components to encourage and enable the redevelopment and revitalization of [identified] areas.”

The section that analyzes the redevelopment potential of a community can be further expanded into a broader economic development element. In addition to the suggested and required components of the analysis, the economic development element can set forth a comprehensive strategy, action steps, required resources, and identify/describe roles and responsibilities of essential partners to achieve desired outcomes. Within this element, a local government should clearly define what it can and will do to support existing business growth and attract new business investment. The economic development element should also provide sufficient guidance to develop laws, policies, and programs to achieve implementation, including sometimes a master plan and/or a capital improvement program.

Wisconsin Economic Development Institute has published A Guide to Preparing the Economic Development Element of a Comprehensive Plan. While this guide specifically references Wisconsin’s land-use planning law and its requirement for comprehensive plans to contain an economic development element, it offers general guidance on the economic development process that is relevant to all local governments. It suggests that the economic development element within a comprehensive plan:

  • Be current and relevant
  • Have clearly defined, shared goals
  • Be consistent with and build upon other local, regional, and state plans
  • Reflect current market conditions
  • Be crafted as a result of public involvement and a collaborative environment that actively involves all community stakeholders
  • Define a detailed strategy
  • Define measures of success

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