Economic development is always a central concern for local governments, and has become increasingly important as the federal role in this area has been reduced in the last two decades. More recently, county governments have extended their activities in order to be closer to the people having greater needs and preferences resulting from economic decline and suburbanization. Economic development has become a major priority among counties.
This dissertation takes an encompassing approach to institutions that focus primarily on institutions as organization-level governing structures, but also views organizations and their choices of institutional structures as shaped by the larger institutional environments in which they are embedded. Local organizations have obvious importance for development priorities, policies, and success, but we know very little about the organizations and institutions for promoting local growth, or how and why they have chosen and changed over the past two decades. Especially, there is greater importance of local organizations in counties, because they have larger resource bases than municipalities, and stronger local identification which can facilitate economic development programs and policies. This study asks these three questions focusing on organizational choices for economic development in U.S. counties. How do communities organize themselves to promote economic development? Have county governments changed their organizational arrangements for promoting economic development? What accounts for organizational choice in three dimension of county economic development organizations: (1) internal organizations in departmental function; (2) locus of active organizations; (3) regional partnership organizations?
With 500 respondents of the survey for statistical analyses, in internal organizations of county governments, the dominant choice was to place the department under the control of the county commission, administrator or manager, while the second was a separate department type in 2009. Also, the results indicate that counties with economic decline rely on separate type to robust economies, and specific interests and inter-local networks influence change of organizational arrangements positively in the structure of county governments.
In the locus of development authority, public organization was the most dominant organizational arrangement for economic development in counties. Public-private organization was the second in 2009. In addition, the results of statistical analyses show that counties with economic decline and a reformed form of government rely more on public-private organizations to promote economic condition, while stronger environmental interest choose public organizations as the active actor for county economic development. Specific interests (pro-development interest and pro-environment interest) have affected change of development groups for the last 10 years.
In 2009, about 80% of county governments joined in regional partnership organizations. The analysis indicates that stronger environmental interest, a reformed form of government, and a closer inter-local network are positively related with participating in the regional partnership organizations. Also, specific interests (pro-development interest and pro-environment interest) and a reformed form of government have made the county governments affiliate with the regional organizations between 1999 and 2009.
Finally, this dissertation confirms that counties have chosen and changed their organizations for economic development reflecting public demands, specific interests, and inter-local relationships.