University Economic Development Association

Download Heartland Forward’s Presentation Slide Deck

The Place Network was joined by three special guests from Heartland Forward who presented insights from their recent new Place-Based Economic Development Toolkit and four case studies on the utilization of unique strengths for sustainable growth. Scholar Maryann P. Feldman, Economist Minoli Ratnatunga; and Chief Research Officer Dave Shideler.


Heartland Forward is a think and do tank that aims to serve as a resource for states and local regions in the middle of the continental United States. By conducting research on broad economic trends, and building data-driven and community-tested partnerships programs and policies, Heartland Forward focuses on its four major pillars for community growth:

  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Human Capital And Workforce Development
  • Health and Wellness
  • Regional Competitiveness

Heartland Forward emphasized that place-based development is a self-organizing process driven by firms and industries that collaborate with universities, governments, and community groups. Firms and industries create the foundation for investment necessary for funding opportunities to be achievable for a community. However, collaborators must also depend on local strengths, as communities can differ in industry strength, current stage of development and historical context, making place-based development a unique process. that should be unique to the community.

The Place-based Development Toolkit observes the significance of firms through a matrix between regional capacities at the three stages of industry maturity within a life cycle model. The matrix broke down the different faucets involved in an industry within a region. Community, Firm and Industry, Entrepreneurial and Innovative Infrastructure capacities were described with each of the Nascency, Accelerating and Resilience stages. In order to develop those capacities through the mentioned stages, the Toolkit featured six tools to aid place-based economic development:

  1. Constructing a regional profile
  2. Identifying target industries for development
  3. Assessing a regional industry’s maturity
  4. Building effective partnerships
  5. Setting relevant goals
  6. Choosing benchmark regions

Heartland Forward also described tech transfer as a key component of place-based development. One case study, Research to Renewal: Advancing University Tech Transfer, universities and research institutions were identified as a source of new firms in nascent industries or helping firms in accelerating or resilient industries to improve projects and processes to stay competitive. Graduates of higher education institutions also serve as future entrepreneurs and employees, attracting firms to the region.

Key lessons and takeaways from Heartland Forward include:

  • A region must utilize its local strengths for effective place-based development. Comparison across different regions may leave out essential context key for identifying those strengths.
  • Continuity of shared community vision is essential in the event that a funding opportunity is missed to keep development momentum moving forward. Universities benefit when the region does well. Thus, regional synergy is encouraged.
  • While there are several actors within collaboration, industry firms and entrepreneurs are the key players in generating investment for regional growth.