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Humboldt County Engages the Public to Inform its Economic Development Strategy

Case Story

Community: Humboldt County

Population: 134,624


In an effort to create a comprehensive economic development strategy for the region, Humboldt County engaged more than 450 stakeholders ranging from business owners and elected officials to community members, education professionals and tribal leaders.The extensive public engagement effort not only resulted in a comprehensive report that outlines the regions’ greatest economic opportunities, but also helped members of the community better understand their roles in improving the local economy. 

Program Highlights

  • Humboldt County formed partnerships with several economic-focused organizations that helped citizens, business/civic leaders and economic development professionals discuss and develop a proposal of actions to advance the regional economy.
  • After a three-year effort, the collaborative developed a comprehensive economic development strategy, called Prosperity 2012, that is being used to guide the region’s economic development and apply for federal funds. The plan received almost 100 percent positive feedback from residents and was unanimously approved by the county board of supervisors.
  • The extensive outreach process resulted in an ongoing, regional collaboration called the Prosperity Network, which includes economic and educational professionals, business leaders, representatives from civic groups and local officials throughout the county

Lessons Learned

  • Integrity, fairness and transparency are imperative throughout the process.
  • Starting the process with industry leader discussions and an industry leader council to review and prioritize ideas from a business point of view was critical to building credibility.
  • Collaboration is the key to leveraging resources and focusing the efforts of many individuals and organizations.
  • Having three public economic development boards — the Headwaters Fund Board, Redwood Region Economic Development Commission and the Humboldt County Workforce Investment Board — host the process helped bring together the various constituencies necessary for widespread agreement and implementation.
  • Residents contributed a lot when they felt comfortable doing so. Feedback from residents showed that people preferred smaller group discussions and found them more productive than larger forums.

The Rest of the Story

In an effort to speed up a slow economic recovery, Humboldt County set out to engage various groups throughout the region to help identify its greatest opportunities for economic development. The results are outlined in a document called Prosperity 2012, a five-year road map that provides residents, businesses, nonprofit leaders, educators, elected officials, and economic and workforce development practitioners with guidance on how to focus resources collaboratively to increase the number of local jobs.

The project spanned three years and was implemented in three phases to maximize participation and results. From 2010 to 2012, Humboldt County implemented the first phase by gathering data from industry leaders. County representatives met with small groups of industry business leaders to discuss the current economic climate, including what was working and what needed attention. Next, the county partnered with community-based economic boards, such as the Headwaters Fund Board, Redwood Region Economic Development Commission and the Humboldt County Workforce Investment Board. The partnership then expanded to include representatives from several cities and major industries to a form a group called the North Coast Prosperity Network, which met every other week to help guide the process.

In phase two, the North Coast Prosperity Network set out to engage residents, business/civic leaders and economic development professionals to discuss and develop proposed actions to advance the regional economy. One of the community-based boards (Headwaters) conducted one-on-one interviews with more than 100 business and community leaders. These interviews helped identify 18 different topics on which to engage the community at large. The North Coast Prosperity Network team then recruited the community to attend a launch party for the initiative. The 130 people who attended were asked to join one of 18 citizen action teams designed to discuss the topics and prioritize economic challenges.

Each citizen action team made three recommendations for its economic strategy. In subsequent meetings, the teams received feedback and then refined and prioritized their recommendations. Finally, each team presented its top recommendation in a public meeting. The North Coast Prosperity Network gave awards (made of recycled glass and created by a local company) to acknowledge the work of each citizen action team.

More than 450 stakeholders participated in Humboldt County’s effort. County staff says that the multi-pronged approach underscores the importance of engaging with a cross section of the population in an open, transparent way to achieve the most effective results.

Resources to Learn More

Humboldt County Economic Development Website

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