‘Know Your Region’ project gets accolades from federal agency

“Know Your Region,” an educational program developed by Western Carolina University’s Institute for the Economy and the Future, has been recognized as a national model by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and will be featured in the EDA’s 2007 annual report as one of its top investments from that year.

“Know Your Region” is a training program for economic development professionals that focuses on the concept of regionalism as a means of promoting economic development, said Hillary Sherman, who directs the national initiative.

Sherman said economic development and work force development practitioners have traditionally approached economic development from the countywide standpoint, a point-of-view that doesn’t take into account the many ways that counties are linked by various factors, such as transportation systems, and the need for regions to pool their resources and assets as they promote economic development.

The IEF staff submitted a grant proposal to the EDA and has received about $460,000 to date from the federal agency to fund the “Know Your Region” project from August 2006 through December of this year, she said.

During the first year of the project, IEF staff worked with the Regional Economics Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Council for Community and Economic Research to develop a curriculum. The curriculum was tested last summer at a meeting of economic development practitioners in Washington, D.C., and 97 percent of participants said they would recommend the program to others in the field.

This year, the IEF staff is focused on making the program available to economic development professionals across the nation through the program Web site, knowyourregion.org, and through dissemination of paper manuals, Sherman said.

The “Know Your Region” curriculum is divided into six modules: “the collaborative regional economic development framework; leading the planning effort; detecting regional advantage; formulating strategies; linking economic and work force development; and executing your plan.” The IEF staff is now working to add another module focusing on entrepreneurship, and to restructure and expand the curriculum so that it is more useful for particular groups: students, work force development professionals, economic development professionals, entrepreneurs and policy makers, Sherman said.

The project Web site receives an average of 1,500 to 2,000 visits per month, and about 400 of those visitors are accessing the site for the first time, indicating that a substantial number of economic development professionals are visiting the site repeatedly, she said. Some visitors to the Web site are directed there from the Web sites of the EDA and the U.S. Department of Labor, which have links to the project, she said.

The “Know Your Region” curriculum is free to those who use it and no formal registration is necessary, except to participate in the project’s online forums.

The project has even gained some attention from outside the United States. Canadian officials have contacted the IEF staff at WCU to gather information about setting up a similar project in that country, Sherman said.

“America’s continued leadership role in the global marketplace will require communities to work together to build dynamic regional economies that foster innovation and competitiveness,” said Sandy K. Baruah, the U.S. assistant secretary of commerce who heads the EDA.

“The Economic Development Administration it proud to partner with Western Carolina University’s Institute for the Economy and the Future on the ‘Know Your Region’ project, which will help communities across the nation accomplish this,” he said.

For more information about the “Know Your Region” project, contact Sherman at (828) 227-3444.