Lifting the Community Atop the Arch


Public-private partnerships are a keystone in the economic development arch. As a member of the Barrington Town Council, I would seek to establish a PPP Task Force that would operate through a 4-step, repetitive cycle to bolster our town’s economy.

The steps for this cycle would be: 1) expeditiously review the current program; 2) establish benchmarks for existing and new partnerships; 3) prioritize gaps between program and community demand; 4) recruit new partners to fill gaps. Throughout each cycle, measurements would be taken and learning would be applied with each repetition.

Here is an example of a gap in our community (it states a different solution than I’m suggesting, but it clearly and concisely summarizes the problem). And here is an article I posted during the summer about a PPP that can close that gap.

Full Article

Investments in economic development are regularly thought of at a statewide and national level, and seem to only be discussed locally when cities and towns fall on hard times. Prioritizing economic development in Barrington can help us realize improvements in all areas that are important to residents. Some of the areas that are enhanced by strategically focusing on economic development include better availability of hyper-local jobs, increased convenience and enjoyment of a vibrant town center, rising commercial property values (increasing non-residential property tax revenue) and layers of interconnectedness between residents.

Economic development efforts can be viewed as an arch; a strong, supportive structure that rises from two foundations. One of these foundations is government efforts to enhance, incentivize or otherwise positively impact job growth and increase corporate or commercial tax revenue. The other foundation is commercial efforts to generate more profit through serving more customer or clients.

Each of these foundations build businesses upward, raising the benefits to the community. More people have jobs, more jobs pay better wages, more business owners are successful, and municipalities, states and the country have more resources available to provide services to the community.

Public-Private Partnerships

The keystone in the arch of economic development is the public-private partnership. These collaborative efforts between governments and private organizations rest at the intersection of business and government interests, providing the strongest point of the arch on which a community can be supported.

There are many variations to the PPP; from simple to complex, from primarily private to primarily government, from infrastructure projects to community service operations, and more. A cynical view of PPPs is that they represent overreach by the government and are an example of the government wading into the waters of private industry.

The way I view them, and the way I think they are most successful, is as a collaborative effort between government and industry through which the government can simplify or reduce the burden of a private organization’s attempt to serve a need in the community. The reason why these types efforts can be most successful is that governments are typically slower than private organizations, and often operate with greater overhead and administrative costs.

When private organizations are willing to partner with government agencies to serve the community, they bring their nimbleness and expertise in their industry segment to the partnership, creating more value for less money.

If elected to Town Council, I plan to facilitate the use of public-private partnerships within our town’s economic development efforts. I have a four step process that would begin with the establishment of a PPP Task Force. The group would consist of a small number of people representing the town’s Economic Development committee, Barrington Business Association members or other business owners who are connected with the community, and consumers. This group would move quickly through a constant build-measure-learn loop, similar to Lean methodology. The four steps are a program review, benchmarking, prioritization, recruitment.

Expeditiously review the current program

In order to move forward, we must first clearly understand where we are and what is in need of additional effort. We would set a short duration for the evaluation period so that we are sure to act quickly on the remaining steps, and then circle back and re-evaluate. We’d answer the following questions:

  • How many existing public-private partnerships do we have?

    • Which are working well / Why?

    • Which are not working well / Why not?

      • Should the under-performing partnerships be discontinued, or fixed?

  • What needs are being met?

  • What needs are being surpassed?

  • What gaps exist between the needs of the community and the services and goods provided by PPPs or solely commercial or government efforts?

Establish benchmarks for Public-Private Partnerships

It is important to know what success looks like. In the prior phase, we’ll have made general observations of whether specific partnerships were successful. In this second phase, we look more closely at what an ideal PPP looks like within the context of an overall economic development plan.

The benchmarks, made visible to the public, will allow for easy and transparent evaluation by all interested parties. It is important that the PPPs are operating “better” in some way than would be achieved by either partner working independently. This transparency helps to ensure that is happening.

The benchmarks also aid in improvements to successful programs because we can more easily see the strengths and opportunities of a given PPP or group of PPPs.

Prioritize the gaps between program and community demand

With an understanding of the program that currently exists and benchmarks of a good program, it will become even more clear what the gaps are. The work during this phase will be to prioritize the gaps by answering the following questions:

  • Which gaps represent needs vs desires?

  • Which gaps can best be served by an independent entity?

  • How detrimental is a particular gap to the town’s overall goals?

  • Is the gap being met nearby; and if so, is that good enough?

  • Would another organization or group be harmed by filling the gap, or by not filling it?

  • What, if any, are the potentially-emerging gaps in the next five years?

With those questions answered, the Task Force will then be able to prioritize the order in which gaps should be addressed and how much of an investment filling a gap or avoiding the emergence of a gap is worth.

Recruit new partners to fill the gaps

Some gaps may need to be filled, or might best be filled, simply by the town. In other cases, the town will need to recruit an independent organization to fill a gap. In those cases, the Task Force would collaborate with the Planning and Economic Development committee to identify a business that can serve the community’s need and determine how best to recruit them.

For the gaps that will be filled by a PPP, the Task Force will create a partnership proposal to share with local businesses that could be a potential partner in serving the identified need. If a local business or group cannot be identified, we can seek outside businesses that would ideally operate within Barrington. Potential partners would have the opportunity to work with the Task Force to redefine how a partnership would work.

Rinse and Repeat

As we move through the steps, we will be learning about our town, the community’s needs, and the business climate. We will also be learning what works in our specific cases and what might be best left outside the program. This learning happens through constant measurement of our progress against the defined benchmarks. At the end of each cycle, we are able to take what we’ve learned and improve.

Never let anybody tell you “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” When Jeff Bezos created Amazon, he knew that the bookstore industry wasn’t “broken,” but in fixing it, he created a trillion dollar company.