The Critical Role of Infrastructure Planning and Utility Engagement in Economic Development
A key insight from the 2023 Economic Development Summit organized by the I-70/75 Development Association was that comprehensive infrastructure planning and early utility coordination provide the critical foundation for successful economic development projects. I had the honor of attending and moderating an infrastructure-focused panel at this summit.
Insights from a Panel of Experts
As moderator of the infrastructure-focused panel “A Community Blueprint for Site Development,” I gained valuable insights from industry leaders including Rob Beeler from AES, Mason Malcolm from Kleingers Group, and Walt Hibner from CenterPoint Energy on the significance of proactive planning and utility partnerships.
Mason emphasized starting planning early, thoroughly assessing site conditions and constraints while engaging with utility companies. Rob explained that clearly communicating capacity needs and growth plans allows supportive utilities to meet current and future demands. However, building extensive new infrastructure like substations can extend project timelines.
Walt highlighted the expanding role of natural gas, with demand expected to grow 29% by 2050 according to EIA. Gas supports industrial development through process uses and emerging areas like hydrogen production. In fact, Ohio was recently designated as a blue hydrogen hub, with plans to produce hydrogen using natural gas feedstocks.
The group also discussed infrastructure cost considerations, explaining the difference between utilities funding speculative builds versus customer-driven expansions. Early involvement and planning provide more cost clarity.
A Blueprint for Revitalization
One of the most impactful presentations was given by lunch speaker Jason Duff from Small Nation, who presented their blueprint for catalyzing small town revitalization. He highlighted how highly coordinated efforts transformed Bellefontaine over 10 years, leading to outcomes including:
- 7 new downtown eateries
- 17 new specialty retail stores
- 3 event centers
- 56+ historic buildings and storefronts renovated
- 34+ upper floor apartments
- $30M+ in new private investment
- Over 180 new downtown jobs
Jason emphasized that cross-sector collaboration paved the way to go from dying to destination. This serves as an inspiration for communities everywhere.
The insights from this summit demonstrate that proactive infrastructure planning and utility coordination provide the indispensable foundation for bringing economic development projects to fruition. By taking an integrated, partnership-based approach starting early, communities can turn ambitious visions into reality.