In November 2013, Cedar Rapids, Iowa hired AngelouEconomics to provide the city with its first strategic plan for economic development to help diversify its industries and become more competitive.
Cedar Rapids has long been a shining example of Midwest lifestyle – great public schools, high incomes, well-educated workers, low crime and high quality of life. Considered a great place to raise a family, the area suffers from a brain drain when children finish local universities and move away, seeking a more adventurous lifestyle. City leaders feared many retail companies were the leaving Cedar Rapids for newer suburban developments.
In 2008, the city was devastated by flooding that hit Iowa hard. Nearly 10 square miles and 1,300 blocks of Cedar Rapids were covered in water, including all of downtown. More than 5,000 homes and 1,000 businesses were damaged or destroyed by the disaster. In the six years after the disaster, Cedar Rapids achieved remarkable recovery, with new infrastructure replacing much of that destroyed by water. While the city funded many economic development organizations, those organizations were disconnected and provided little information as to their levels of success.
AE worked closely with city staff to develop an economic development plan that leveraged the city’s unique assets and addressed challenges. The project team conducted site visits, interviewing more than 100 key stakeholders. An additional 1,500 stakeholders weighed in through online surveys. A market analysis was provided based on the qualitative stakeholder information and a comprehensive study of statistical data.
Five target industries and corresponding niches were identified for initial focus: Life Sciences, Logistics and Distribution, Food Sciences and Processing, Entrepreneurial Business Services and Fire/Insurance/Real Estate. An analysis of retail leakage was conducted, showing that Cedar Rapids had an overall net retail surplus of $550 million, a 40% excess of local supply over local demand. Leakage did exist in three sectors – Grocery, General Merchandise and Department stores.
AE also conducted an analysis of commercial real estate that reflected high demand for industrial and retail space, indicating vacancy rates of 3.9% and 5.5% respectively. Office space in the city was less encouraging, with a vacancy rate of 22%, due largely to the need for the renovation of downtown buildings. A reverse site selection review was conducted to help city leaders understand how Cedar Rapids appeared as a possible location to site selectors.
In August 2014, AE presented the approved strategic plan to stakeholders during a public rollout. It included a recommendation that the city creates a separate economic development department to direct all economic development efforts concerning the city. AE also recommended Cedar Rapids redefine its regional territory and form alliances with cities within that region. More engagement with local universities was also recommended. An implementation plan detailing staff and deadline dates for each goal and step was provided.
· Market Assessment and SWOT Assessment
· Target Industry Analysis
· Occupational Analysis
· Retail Leakage Analysis
· Commercial Real Estate Analysis
· Reverse Site Selection
· Site Selector Perception Survey
· Strategic Recommendations Report
· Best Practice Case Studies
· Implementation Matrix