“We have a plan for urban development.” This is the kind of statement that is often uttered by local politicians when talking about medium and long-term community planning. But as a rule, only traditional instruments are taken into consideration and as a result, the potential that normally could be offered by using economic development or transportation development plans remains unused. The fact that taking these plans into account is worth the effort, has been proven by the Meiningen-based Steinbeis Consulting Center for Spatial Planning and Structure Development.
The city of Meiningen, located in the German state of Thuringia, has suffered from nearly a 20% reduction in its population since German reunification. Most manufacturing companies have shut down or were totally restructured. Many new firms came along but there was no coordinated effort to develop certain industries. As a result, the number of tertiary sector firms became top-heavy, making it difficult to establish cyclical industry chains in the region. In many parts of Meiningen, economic development still took place on an ad hoc basis and change was long overdue. This was where the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Spatial Planning and Structure Development came in. For the past four years, the center has been busy dealing with economic development. From its office, the center has been managing projects within the remit of economic development as a champion and service provider for businesses. After handing the task to an external party, there was a sharp rise in companies’ acceptance of the role played by economic development services. The transfer of knowledge from universities was achieved through a variety of student projects, providing companies with plenty of food for thought. Drawing on economic development guidelines established by the Department of Urban Development and Economic Development, a four-pillar model was developed for economic development in Meiningen. Steinbeis was given the task of coordinating this model.
Allowing Steinbeis to manage economic development shifted the approach away from solving individual issues to taking on entire projects. As a result, all companies were able to benefit from the economic development success. If problems arose, there were systematic procedures for tackling them, resulting in more transparency, less conflict, and faster outcomes for clients. Economic development established itself as a new impetus and a partner to help modernize administration providing many indirect advantages for local businesses. This project-based approach became a part of the shift in the emphasis of economic development, away from merely attracting companies to the area, but more toward more strategic campaigns. These days, what is needed is the pragmatic economic development within the community, with more simplified administration, quick action, and reduced costs at the local level. In the future, particular attention must be given to the regional, collaborative campaigns creating chances to implementing more comprehensive projects. One thing that proved to be an advantage in this respect, was the formal link to the Department of Urban Development and Economic Development. In addition, the contractual arrangement with Steinbeis meant that the project was supported by a “neutral third party.”