Northeast Indianas Code of Ethics’
When we began our work to establish Northeast Indiana as a top global competitor, economic development professionals in our 10-county region committed to a code of behaviors to achieve our best in economic growth. We call this document our Code of Ethics. Alan Tio, president of the Whitley County EDC and current president of the Indiana Economic Development Association (IEDA), and I have outlined how the Code has helped us look past community borders and see that an economic development win in our region is a win for us all.
Why a “code?” A "code of ethics" now defines a new culture for economic development in this region. Northeast Indiana is nurturing a leadership culture built on trust-based relationships. There are certainly many contributors to trust and relationships in regional and local efforts. However, the Code has become a cornerstone to the foundation necessary to cultivating and sustaining the trust, leadership and accountability of a unique Northeast Indiana brand of economic development.
In 2006 the counties of Northeast Indiana committed to a concept for regional marketing to expand the brand and visibility of our region. The concept was built around a fundamental premise that stiff, head-to-head competition between communities to win economic development projects was squandering limited community resources and severely constraining the growth of our region’s economy. Numerous examples of pitched battles between communities led to lost economic opportunities. Whether real or perceived, border skirmishes left scars of animosity and mistrust between community leaders. Overcoming deeply held distrust then became a driving priority in building collaboration for an effective regional approach.
But what are the ultimate objectives for building a culture of trust and accountability? Simply, the specific outcomes targeted are to eliminate duplication, to achieve the economy of scale, to leverage limited resources and finally, achieve substantial and sustained business investment in our communities.
What is the Code? Initially, our code was captured in a document referred to as the “Principles of Operation.” While the substance of the document was important, even more so was the determination by economic developers to reach understanding and buy-in for what was best for economic development, locally and regionally. Although the first effort was rudimentary, it memorialized the results of intense discussion and resolution of disagreements guiding how economic developers would work together and become mutually accountable for the economic performance of the region.
What principles were addressed? In its early form the principles spoke to lead sharing, client confidentiality and the “stealing” of projects between counties. An initial concern was that one community or another would receive preferential treatment for the most desirable leads or “cherry-picking.” This necessitated a clear statement to transparency; all regional leads published to all counties at the same time. Even if a community was not in the hunt, they would know who was and what type of project was in play. Clearly stated, economic development projects would be driven by the business interests of the prospect client and the competitive value proposition offered by regional communities.
Following benchmarking of the Denver Metro EDC, economic development professionals determined to go to a higher standard, adopting the Code of Ethics by name. The revised Code for the region contains words like leadership, prosperity, professionalism, respect and trust. The Code commits to the practice of selling “Northeast Indiana First” while encouraging aggressive competition by individual communities to win economic development projects. Critical to economic developers, our ethics exclude behaviors like solicitation of our neighbors’ prospects and selling against neighboring communities throughout Indiana. Importantly, the Code articulates the most serious breach of ethics: withholding relevant information between stakeholders.
What about accountability? Economic developers agreed to a process for identifying and resolving violations. The ultimate consequence for failure to respect and honor the Code is removal from participation in the Partnership; fondly called the “death penalty.” Less about compliance to rules and more about honoring the culture of trust, the Code encourages individual responsibility and professional leadership to resolve differences. A high degree of accountability breathes life into the Code and delivers results; achieving our best potential as a region of communities invested in economic growth.
The Code of Ethics of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership was signed publicly in 2012 by all economic development professionals and the executives of the Regional Partnership, the Workforce Investment Board and the Regional Chamber. Since then, the Mayors’ and Commissioners’ Caucus of Northeast Indiana has adopted the Code in their founding documents. These public commitments go well beyond ceremony. The public adoption and proclamation bind leaders of our region together in committing to higher levels of performance and accountability through a culture of trust and respect.
Make no mistake, committing to a code of behaviors in economic development is not for the faint of heart. This is not a “secret sauce.” It is an intentional, sustained commitment to identify and nurture the principles and behaviors that build trust and effectiveness. While there are risks, there is nothing more certain nor fatal than the results of yesterday’s behaviors competing in tomorrow’s global marketplace. The Code of Ethics for Northeast Indiana is all about achieving our best in economic performance.
To view the Code of Ethics and find out more information on the collaborations happening in Northeast Indiana, visit the Collaboration page on the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s website.