Economic development leaders around the country have been playing double duty since the start of the pandemic – being a resource to help sustain companies and existing industries while also monitoring the growth of emerging industries particularly in response to new market dynamics. As the dust settles, the pandemic is projected to shift the preference for quality of place over quality of life. Additionally, the transformation of some industries and the potential obsolescence of others presents challenges for some communities as well as opportunities for innovation.
Blueprint Creative spoke with economic development leaders across the country about the shifts in their targeted industries and where opportunities are emerging. More specifically, we wanted to know what the outlook was in their region moving forward and how the shift aligned with macro-environment trends.
We share the perspectives from these leaders on the top industries showing the greatest momentum.
Communities pivoted obviously to prioritize certain sectors but to also capture the momentum in the innovation emerging from the pandemic.
Even prior to the pandemic, Houston was already experiencing shifts and some slowdown in one of its major sectors â€“ oil and gas â€“ which had seen some early job losses. Houston in every sense is obviously the energy capital of the world with about 4,600 to 4,800 energy firms. So a disruption to this sector and job shedding could be disastrous. Overall, the region had a net loss of about 250,000 jobs coming in Q3 of 2020.
We spoke with Susan Davenport on the Economic Development Podcast series. She serves as Senior Vice President & Chief Economic Development Officer at Greater Houston Partnership.
â€œAs a region, weâ€™ve been expanding our target sector with Energy 2.0 and exploring the full complement of where we know future growth is moving in renewables, clean technology, and all of the different facets that go along with that. We just announced having the first expansion of Greentown Labs, the largest climate tech and clean tech incubator in North America and perhaps around the world.â€
Greater Houston Partnership already had a strategic plan in place prior to the pandemic that became even more critical following the impact.
Life Sciences & Biosciences
Obviously the race for a COVID vaccine has positioned the life sciences and biosciences sector as the darling of 2020. North Carolina is one of the markets with the greatest to gain from this sector.
“As home to major life sciences companies, the pandemic has presented tremendous growth particularly in the race for a vaccine,” shares Christopher Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
The state started off 2020 with a couple of big additions to the life science industry with the new operation of Audentes Therapeutics, owned by a Japanese parent company, Eli Lilly announcing a major presence in the state, and Grifols Therapeutics, a blood plasma treatment company, expanding their operation in the state.
“I suspect life sciences and biopharmaceuticals is going to be a historically strong suit for North Carolina where we can expect to see even greater activity. Weâ€™ve continued to see this steady flow of companies who are relocating or expanding to the state because of the rich ecosystem for the sector as well as the talent being produced by our universities, including Duke University, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest, among others.”
Christopher’s full interview can be heard on the Economic Development Podcast.
Houston is also showing significant growth in this sector. The region is home to the largest medical center in the world that collectively makes up about 55 to 60 entities employing over 100,000 to 220,000 people. That alone creates a medical infrastructure bringing on new innovation around life science.
The manufacturing sector made a comeback as many industries pivoted to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE). In North Carolina, for example, the state historically had a huge concentration of the textiles industry manufacturing upholstery for the furniture sector and apparel. Many of the companies in the sector pivoted towards the production of PPE. Ultimately, it’s the disruption to the country’s supply chain during the pandemic that really highlighted the reemergence of this industry.
â€œBeing an advanced manufacturing state where 10% of our economy is rooted in manufacturing, I suspect weâ€™ll be able to leverage some of the re-shoring and return of U.S manufacturing capacity,” shares Christopher Chung. “So instead of depending on overseas manufacturing arrangements or partners, I do believe that we are going to see some of that make its way back. I think as a country, these past few months have really shown us the downsides of being overly reliant on manufacturing overseas to supply us with some of these critical medical supplies or pharmaceutical products.”
Logistics & Distribution
Between the dying retail segment and Amazon’s takeover, the explosive growth of e-commerce was already driving the growth in the logistics and distribution sector. In Columbus, OH where the region is home to retail giants like Abercrombie & Fitch, Lane Bryant, and Big Lots, all of these brands were undergoing pretty substantial changes as the industry was facing a global threat. The crisis only accelerated it.
“All those companies are transitioning to e-commerce platforms, and Ohio happens to be a major fulfillment logistics center globally. Those companies have pivoted incredibly well,” shares Kenny McDonald during his interview. “As a region, we’re focusing on a lot of the technology thatâ€™s fueling e-commerce.”
Kenny is the President & CEO of One Columbus, the economic development leader for the region.
Similarly, the Memphis region is capitalizing on the growth of the logistics and distribution sector and how the interruption in international supply change is spurring the growth.
“Whatever the international supply chains look like coming out of this pandemic, to prepare for that, we are making improvements both at our airports, but also long term with our river port,” shares Reid Dulberger during his interview. Reid is President & CEO of the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis & Shelby County.
Software Development & Medical Technology
Between Teslaâ€™s SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Nexflixâ€™s corporate studio all located in the Albuquerque metro, the region is producing significant sector growth in software, aerospace, and gaming.
“Over the last couple of years weâ€™ve seen tech employers such as Facebook put a data center in our market, and the growth is fueled from the top notch software development talent in this market,” shares Annmarie Henton, Vice President Business Development & Marketing at Albuquerque Economic Development.
Albuquerque is a research and development hub and has among the highest concentration of PhDs as a result of the region’s scientific and technological community.
The outlook is the same in Rochester, NY. Known as a leading medical technology hub, Matt Hurlbutt, CEO of the Greater Rochester Enterprise shares how the pandemic is boosting the entire ecosystem between optics, photonics and imaging, medical device manufacturing, and data and science software.
“We have a lot of innovation coming out of some of our essential businesses here on the medical device front, and certain industries have evolved and reemerged since the pandemic. Thereâ€™s research at the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology on ventilator technologies and 3D printing,” shared Matt during his interview.
Economic Development Podcast series
As economic development marketers, Blueprint Creative launched the podcast series to drive thought leadership and shape best practices as we move towards recovery and resiliency in a post-pandemic world. Throughout the series, leaders discuss the changing dynamics of the economic development industry as a whole and predict the trends that may shift their targeted industries.
The series features economic development leaders from across the country and can be checked out here.