Understanding the International Engagement Planning Process and Ingredients for Success

This section offers advice on organizing the planning process. The plan itself, including plan components and strategy development, are covered in other sections within Strategy & Planning.

Note that this toolkit discusses the FDI and export planning processes separately. However there is considerable overlap between them, and coordination is required. This section discusses aspects of the planning process that apply to both FDI and exports.

Voice of the Practitioner

If you don’t have a plan, you bend to the wind of the next ED trend. We are getting ready to develop our fourth strategic plan….from that plan we develop our goals and work the plan!
Karlisa Parker Dean, Director of Economic Development for Chester County, SC


Most local EDOs do not appear to have formal international engagement plans, and are often reactive or opportunistic – primarily responding to inquiries from potential investors. Even if a community wants to be more deliberate in its FDI attraction and export promotion, a written plan is not necessary for success. The region’s assets are probably the biggest factors. However, planning helps to develop thoughtful strategies that can target resources, streamline tactics, uncover new opportunities, and accelerate results (IERC Final Report, p. 43)

Ingredients for Success

IERC Final Report, p.44: First, strong political and organizational leadership underpins the entire effort. Second, a region must make global engagement a priority, which includes the need for a sustained commitment, appropriate funding for these activities, and a long-term time horizon for payoff on these investments, as it can take years for FDI and export activities to come to fruition. Third, success is more likely if a region’s economic development and related organizations are collaborative and aligned. This is important to provide consistent, seamless support for increasing exports and FDI and to address business challenges and support the growth of companies in target industries.

Assessment Questions to consider as you initiate your region’s international engagement strategy

Planning Effort

The depth and extent of the planning effort depends on available resources and the perceived opportunity. You may engage in an extensive planning process, such as the Global Cities Initiative, or alternatively it may simply involve a handful of strategic planning meetings. While the process can be quite different in each region, there are some commonalities around the objective of the plan, what it should include, and what is required to be successful – as outlined below.

Objective of the Plan

Brookings offers a good articulation of the objective of the plan: It should make the “simple, compelling case” for why FDI and exports matters and outline “what the metro area intends to do to take advantage of the opportunity. Its purpose is to capture the story in one place, serve as a vehicle for educating a wide range of audiences on the topic, gain the buy-in and support of key local stakeholders… and provide direction and accountability for the local agencies charged with its implementation.” (Brookings— FDI Planning Guide- A blueprint for metro teams pursuing global economic engagement, p. 10; Brookings — Ten steps to delivering a successful metro export plan, p. 18)

Managing the Planning Process

Brookings describes several considerations for effectively managing the process in its FDI Planning Guide- A blueprint for metro teams pursuing global economic engagement and in Ten steps to delivering a successful metro export plan. (Note that some of the text refers only to FDI, but apply to exports as well.)

Advice for Managing the Planning Process - Brookings

  • “Metro areas intent on developing an FDI plan should be ready, capable, and committed to engage fully in the 10-month planning process required to deliver a solid plan.”
  • “From start to finish, the export planning process should require about six to nine months to complete”
  • “The work requires significant organizing of local stakeholders and a commitment of resources up front as part of the set-up phase.”
  • “This section emphasizes the importance of an upfront and ongoing commitment of required time and resources, a dedication to research, and an engaged core team.”
Project Management and Team
  • For export and FDI planning “metro areas that proved to be most successful…designated a regional economic development organization (EDO) to lead the overall effort, named a project manager to coordinate and ‘own’ the project through completion, and secured the commitment of the EDO’s leadership to dedicate a significant amount of staff time and resources to the project. This type of project requires the project manager to dedicate at least 50 percent of his/her time to the effort.”
  • “A common mistake was to initially task the existing lead person for FDI attraction in the metro area to also serve as the project lead for the planning pro­cess. In nearly all cases, that person’s travel schedule, existing commitments, and the need to prioritize new prospect work proved to be significant obstacles.”
  • “The com­mon thread in all successful examples of FDI research is that one person was ultimately responsible for (and highly committed to) driving the comprehensive research process.“
  • Pages 5-6 of the FDI guide (and 10-11 in the ’10 Steps to Deliver a Successful Metro Export Plan Document’) discuss the make-up and responsibilities of the Core Team and Steering Committee.
  • “It is important to assign a willing and capable individual to serve as the lead writer on the plan. This task requires someone who is a creative and strategic critical thinker and has the ability to dedicate significant time to both the writing effort and the project overall. The writer must be able to organize thoughts, take a lot of quantitative and qualitative information and cull the key points, solicit input from all meetings and determine whether and how to include critical points, and manage and drive completion of the writing project….Further, writing by committee simply did not work in any metro areas that attempted to use that approach…The lead writer was typically either the project manager or the research lead…Some metro areas hired a professional writer, but that choice can present issues because outside writers probably don’t know the subject matter or local politics as well, and typically they have not been involved in most of the critical meetings.”
Elements of Effective Plan Implementation
  • “Having a ‘champion’ for the global initiative…a well-respected civic leader, such as a CEO or elected official, who can demonstrate the importance of the plan and be a voice for it can be a game changer”
  • Developing a “timetable that clarifies the phases of implementation over the next few years”
  • “Identifying a regional organization to lead and coordinate the unified regional effort”
  • Determining “annual funding required for the initiative, and what specific programs and staffing this funding will support” and “how the money will be raised (existing resources and new sources of investment)”
  • Defining “the core roles of federal, state, and county partner organizations”
  • Defining a “basic plan of action for the first three to six months”
  • Ensuring accountability; for example, “San Antonio transformed its steering committee, which oversaw the development of the strategy, into the Global Competitiveness Council, tasked with public accountability and ensuring the plan’s implementation.”


Brookings Global Cities Initiative  Plan Examples

Brookings GCI main web page: