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How a city is organized matters for growth

An upcoming mayoral election in Louisville where the incumbent will not run again has sparked coverage in the local press on “How should Louisville best handle business growth moving forward?” Various interested parties, mainly the economic development-related entities that do the work today, are weighing in on which structural elements of the way the city manages growth may be holding Louisville back in terms of competing for business growth.


Louisville has two economic development organizations — Louisville Forward, a city agency created by the Mayor in 2014 by pulling about $1 million in funding away from the local chamber to handle development in the city, and Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI), the local chamber of commerce, which, after losing the support and the primary role in economic development, came to define its role as handling regional development.


The article talks about the “ideal” target for a company looking to relocate as “a municipality with combined city-county government and one organization that handles economic development for the entire region.” It also acknowledges that there are myriad ways that a city or a region organizes its economic development.


In practical terms for the city right now, however, this is missing the mark. It’s not about how Louisville is structured to handle business growth after a decade of stagnation in population growth, business growth, talent attraction and retention.


It’s about what fundamental changes are needed to ensure that Louisville is able to get its growth engine going at all.


We’ve said before, unlocking growth potential in Louisville is possible by changing what we stand for as a city and whether success is for everyone, not just the usual suspects. If the conditions for equity are present, growth becomes immediately possible for Louisville.


Culture change is needed for the conditions for equity to be present, as well as innovation in policy and programs, and doing more with what a city has.


How Louisville is organized matters for growth


Today, the city’s structure and org chart, is the result of historical priorities and, to a great extent, who is left standing.


It’s like a breadcrumb trail of old initiatives to those in the know.


During my brief foray into the mayoral campaign, I learned that Louisville's mayors can organize their staff in any way they want, including: any number of Chiefs; any type of role for the Deputy Mayor; and any matching of who and what reports to whom. All this means that they can also completely restructure the organizational chart to drive strategy, culture change, and leadership focus. Importantly, the budget then can be restructured to support these changes.


We’ve worked with the mayoral campaign of Timothy Findley, Jr. on what organizing for a new discussion and shared vision on the top strategies needed today might look like. Consider this first cut below that centralizes the discussion in four (4) key strategy areas.




The four major strategy areas innovate in the following ways:

  1. Combined Community Health and Safety and all related entities to rationalize ideas, talent and resources across the board that will improve outcomes.

  2. Combined Finance, Systems and Governance to put constant focus on improvements and creating an unprecedented community feedback loop to build social capital around how the city operates. The Transition Team of community and business leaders can stay in place beyond the transition and look at Boards and Commissions for relevance and representation. Who is in the room matters, too.

  3. Combine all the activities that drive equitable economic growth, including related agencies, to operate under one set of strategies to guide tactics and investments made across the board.

  4. Combined public services and related agencies to ensure strong execution on the ground – the streetlights are on, the garbage is picked up and the City retains its unique beauty and charm with ever-improving built infrastructure.

As for the Louisville Forward vs. GLI debate, our take is that the answer is in the strategic priorities set by this more focused leadership structure. What’s yours?

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