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Ada’s Strategic Engagement for Economic Development in 2020
The Ada Jobs Foundation’s mission is to help Ada’s economy grow by supporting companies to create new quality jobs in our community. Heading into 2020, we realized that there were barriers to new economic growth that were external to the local companies and entrepreneurs we support every day. The first issue we noticed was the difficulty in companies being able to find reliable talent. Building on this challenge was the fact that a greater number of people were commuting to Ada from outside of our county for work. Our existing housing stock was not able to adapt quickly enough to suit the needs of those working in new jobs. Finally, we recognized that our entrepreneurs did not have the support and resources they needed to keep their company going in Ada. As these issues came to light, we noticed that the hardest working people and volunteers in our community were being stretched thin and we had little capacity to tackle new opportunities.
In short, we needed a new plan and a way of thinking that went beyond traditional economic development strategies.
We had the help of key partners in this process. Oklahoma Gas and Electric stepped in to help us pilot a community assessment. We were able to bring back Allison Larsen with TadZo, who had helped Ada with an economic development strategy in 2013. The City of Ada also stepped in to support the creation of an updated community and economic development strategy. In January and February of 2020, we worked with these partners to carry out a community assessment, and organized a leadership team and key focus groups.
We met in the snow and rain, and on a pleasant and sunlit afternoon in March, we saw a parade of shopping carts travel past our building, each one stuffed with a mountain of toilet paper from the local dollar store on our block. We looked at each other and realized that things were about to change. As the pandemic started, our leadership team decided to continue developing our strategy. We re-assessed our work in April and decided to ask what would make Ada thrive, rather than just survive, when existing the pandemic era.
We spent the middle part of 2020 organizing focus groups. We pulled together groups as diverse as Manufacturing, Banking, and retail businesses along with county school systems, homeless services, and broadband internet providers. We attempted to establish a real-time baseline for what was happening in our community, even as things seemed to change by the minute.
After sifting through all of this input and data from our community, we convened our Leadership Team to discuss how to organize our approach moving forward. After establishing the need for 7 new initiatives, we helped narrow our strategy into three broad approaches:
These areas would help guide our work from the end of 2020 through the present. One of the first key things we identified was the lack of staff capacity to facilitate action in these areas. With the support of our board, we realigned our staffing to suit action in these 3 strategic areas and hired a new Economic Development Specialist to focus on Workforce Development and a new Community Development Specialist, to focus on housing, neighborhoods, health, and community vibrancy. These areas were also designed to complement existing strategic work from Ada’s Take P.A.R.T. (Planning Ada Right Together) effort, such as the Beautification Committee.
As we added staff and capacity to help address critical challenges in these areas, we realized that we needed an approach to engage our community in an intentional and inclusive way to implement this strategy. We wanted to develop “Action Teams” to address critical challenges for our community in these three areas. The Action Team structure is designed to enable the existing energy of our community be directed towards feasible and actionable items, such as organizing a career awareness event or conducting a neighborhood assessment. The Action Team structure is designed to be flexible, agile, and results oriented. We did not want to draft a plan that would require 5 years to change and sit on a shelf until that point. In this respect, our community and economic development strategy in 2020 is different from a planning-oriented Comprehensive Plan or from a traditional industrial development strategy. There is a focus on including our community to help create new action in some of the areas that we cannot address or solve by ourselves. The goal is to create new capacity for action by providing a space and a platform to work together.
The Ada Jobs Foundation is looking to implement this plan in 2022 through an initiative called DEPTH (Doers, Energy, Passion, Transform, and Habitude). DEPTH will seek to go deeper into these key challenges and opportunities for economic development in Ada. We are seeking to build on the passion for making Ada an excellent community by organizing ideas into action in the areas of entrepreneurship, workforce development, and community development. Working with these dedicated groups of people to learn what others are doing in these keys areas and setting common goals for Ada will help us in aligning resources together to work towards projects that will benefit the community.
Meetings will be held quarterly, starting on February 23rd. The kick-off meetings this month will focus on developing a unique strategy for the coming year a schedule of kick-off meetings is as follows:
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2:00-3:00 pm Rural Innovation Action Team Meeting
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2:00-3:00 pm Community Development Action Team Meeting
Wednesday, March 9th, 2:00-3:00 pm Workforce and Talent Action Team Meeting
After these kick-off meetings, the Action Teams will have an opportunity to begin working on new initiatives and check-in in meetings held each quarter. Those interested in attending can visit the Ada Action Teams website to sign up and find additional information. We look forward to organizing with the community and working on projects that help increase the social and economic opportunities for those living here in Ada.