McKnight has more than 25 years’ experience working with research parks, technology commercialization, business incubation, government relations, business and economic development. She previously has held economic development-related jobs in Utah, Montana and South Dakota. Prior to REDI, she worked as director of Incubation Enterprise and Technology Outreach for the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative at the University of Utah.
REDI works to “build the region’s economy through retention and expansion of existing industry, attraction of new employers, and diversification of the economic base while promoting talent development, attraction and retention,” according to its website.
McKnight recently participated in an email question-and-answer with the East Idaho Business Journal.
East Idaho Business Journal: What do you think are the most significant achievements for REDI so far?
Teresa McKnight: REDI’s main focus is to become a trusted voice in the region. To that end, REDI has produced research supported by data, which identified key industries and clusters central to the region’s growth. Eastern Idaho has a number of exciting business sectors well positioned for the future. Our research has also identified growth opportunities in other sectors such as the SMR and cybersecurity that have high growth potential.
Based on this research, REDI recently completed an economic strategic plan. Because the potential is regionwide, regional cooperation and collaboration is necessary. Fortunately, relationships between REDI, city and county representatives, higher education leadership and business and industry leaders continue to strengthen. With a solid strategic plan and closer cooperation throughout the region, we will now begin the work necessary to strengthen and market the region.
REDI has also partnered with several organizations around the state of Idaho and nationally. For example, REDI partnered with the Idaho Technology Council to address the growth of a knowledge-based economy in eastern Idaho.
EIBJ: What concrete goals do you aim to accomplish in your first year on the job?
McKnight: Over the past three months I have met with civic, business, and community leaders up and down eastern Idaho’s I-15 Corridor.
I am focused on:
Moving REDI’s activities to be more targeted and strategic in nature and to base REDI’s services on market-driven data for the industry clusters identified.
Marketing the competitive advantages of the region and each community within the region.
Increasing eastern Idaho’s competitiveness by building connections, relationships and partnerships between government, public institutions and private sector in identified strategic areas and activities. This means an understanding of the value chain for each cluster identified, as well as the relationships of the clusters combined with capital, support services, workforce and policies.
Creating a collaborative regional strategy that “levels the playing field” between the communities, as well as between business and industry.
Allowing region and industry stakeholders to understand the structure and nature of the identified clusters, their strengths and weaknesses in the market and with the competition.
Continued work with local economic development representatives to develop and implement regional initiatives based on the target industry clusters.
Filling the gaps through business retention, expansion and attraction and workforce recruitment programs.
Creating better linkages among existing support services and increase services to better meet business needs.
Providing research and intelligence services, networking, workshops, and site hosting opportunities.
Most important, work to diversify the economy, increase the number of high-paying jobs, develop and strengthen identified target clusters to ensure return on investment and, on an annual basis, evaluate and benchmark results.
EIBJ: Has the regional economic development model demonstrated that it is superior to the local economic development model that was employed before the creation of REDI?
McKnight: Local economic development efforts are vital to the success of a community. A regional economic development organization like REDI develops the research, data and marketing reach that is not possible at the local level. It also plays an important role in growing regional economies because it provides the ability to bring leadership together to draw upon a larger pool of resources, labor and assets — making individual communities stronger as a unified economic ecosystem.
The benefit of doing business attraction on a regional basis — simply put — will improve eastern Idaho’s ability to compete in a competitive global economy. The decision to expand for an existing company or for a site selector to choose a location is dependent on a strong, local, economic development organization. Those organizations may be community based, city based or county based. REDI works in partnership with these organizations to showcase regional strengths.
EIBJ: Are the area’s other ongoing economic development efforts working in conjunction with REDI or do those efforts divert from REDI’s goals?
McKnight: Working together is imperative. REDI meets on a consistent basis with city and community leaders, as well as regional economic development leaders. REDI takes a leadership role in projects and initiatives that are regional in nature to develop efficient systems to avoid duplication of efforts.
REDI also partners on and supports projects that are developing in individual communities in the region.
Public-public and public-private partnerships are proven models to strengthen regional economic development efforts and build a more sustainable economic ecosystem. When regions progress and succeed, it’s because leaders at all levels come together, unify in efforts, and leverage the assets of their communities to benefit the region.
EIBJ: What lessons did you learn as director of the Utah Incubation Enterprise and Technology Outreach Program that are applicable to your new role?
McKnight: The lessons learned, not just in my previous position with the state of Utah, but in the past 25 years I have spent working in economic development is patience. It takes time to build a strong economic ecosystem. Leadership always wants to see quick results. They look at neighboring states that are succeeding and want the same results. Helping leaders understand and appreciate the time and work it takes behind the scenes, and helping them remain patient through the process to reach success, is one of the greatest lessons I have learned in my career path to-date.
EIBJ: Has the recent turnover at REDI’s helm — three CEO leaders in less than two years — slowed the organization’s growth or goal achievement?
McKnight: Change in leadership always impacts an organization on some level … With Jan’s past experience in economic development, and Dana’s federal, state and local government experience, each played a role in laying the groundwork required to push REDI forward.
I am thrilled to use my experience to build upon the great work to-date. To bring forward new programs and initiatives to strengthen eastern Idaho. To recruit, retain and expand business and industry in the sectors we have identified. To partner with universities, colleges, business and industry to develop new workforce recruitment and retention programs, and to work with entrepreneurs and incubation organizations to develop new ideas, expand research capabilities, and build a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region.
EIBJ: What significant challenges still must be overcome for REDI to be considered a success?
McKnight: REDI has developed an Economic Strategic Plan, which is a living document that addresses workforce needs, education, access to jobs, transportation, broadband, employer needs and partnerships required to advance collaboration efforts and address regional issues. The plan sets the foundation. The plan will be refined and updated.
Economic development is about setting a nimble set of strategies that are constantly updated and realigned, in partnership with, and in support of both the public and private sectors.
East Idaho’s economy is strong. We are witnessing rapid changes in several technology sectors (ag, advanced manufacturing, energy, health care and information technology). The benefits of REDI, and the development of a regional economic development strategic plan to steer the course and generate results, demonstrates eastern Idaho’s desire to maximize economic growth and protect the prosperity of future generations to come.