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Three Trends and Tools from the 2023 NADO Annual Training Conference

“This is my first time in Cleveland” is a statement I often heard when meeting new people at the National Association of Development Organizations’ (NADO) Annual Training Conference in November. It was also a powerful reminder that a conference, especially one focused on economic and community development, is a major opportunity to not only connect practitioners with each other, but also with promising practices and resources, particularly those in the region. With place-based strategies being commonly referenced in presentations, the conference organizers did an excellent job creating a place-based conference, while also addressing topics relevant to attendees from as far as American Samoa. 

Here are three trends and resources from the conference:

Mobile Workshops and Evergreen Cooperatives

Some of the most impactful parts of this conference were the mobile workshops, which allowed attendees to learn about important resources and best practices while directly experiencing them in the community. Many hoped this opportunity would become a trend for this conference and other conferences. Affectionately referred to as “adult field trips” by attendees, the mobile workshops provided a deeper understanding of the topics, while also inspiring participants, especially the workshop focused on the Evergreen Cooperatives. 

The Evergreen Cooperatives has become a global model for employee ownership and community wealth building. The Evergreen Model supports economic growth initiatives in wealth building through profit sharing with its network of worker-owned cooperatives. Attendees had the opportunity to visit one of the cooperatives, Evergreen Cooperative Laundry. Leaders provided an overview of their mission to revitalize low-to-medium income neighborhoods through employee ownership and employee owners shared their experiences having a stake in the place they work. Evergreen’s Fund for Employee Ownership acquires small and medium-sized businesses to convert them to employee ownership, while also providing long-term support. 

Brownfields and Brightfields

The conference kicked off its mobile workshops by focusing on the popular topic of brownfields. Participants were transported to three sites in Cleveland: the Flats East Bank, Drury Hotel, and Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve. The Flats East Bank provided attendees from warmer climates with the surprising wind chill off of Lake Erie, while also showcasing a trendy spot in the city with restaurants, retail, parks, and housing that was once a blighted area with warehouses and closed bars. The Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve gave attendees a chance to experience the outdoors while learning about the area’s transformation from brownfield to greenfield. The workshop ended with another key quality of place asset: art, as participants had the chance to view the beautiful renovated murals in Drury Inn

Before venturing to the former brownfield sites, participants attended a session at the conference to learn about brownfield trends and resources. When the audience was asked by one of the presenters how familiar they were with brownfields, the response was that they were very familiar with the term. However, they were less familiar with the term: brightfield, shared by another presenter. Matthew Popkin of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) explained that although the term brightfield has been around for some time, people are less familiar with it, but it is a key opportunity for communities. A brightfield reuses a brownfield for clean energy. There are more than 190,000 potential brightfield sites and only 502 have been completed. RMI is partnering with the Kansas State University’s (KSU) Technical Assistance to Brownfields program to launch the first-ever Brightfields Accelerator

Growing Data Needs and Resources

Bravely, the organizers scheduled the very first session of the conference in the morning to focus on data. To the surprise of even the presenter, the large room was packed with people eager to learn about “Achieving, Measuring and Reporting Results with Data Analysis.” The presenter, Alison Turner of the Argonne National Laboratory, provided an engaging presentation and a chance to connect with fellow attendees. Through the engagement, it was made clear that data is becoming increasingly important to all community development organizations. 

When the audience was asked about the data sources they use, many said they utilize federal data sources. However, attendees from small and rural communities noted their challenges with federal sources, as there are constraints for areas with smaller populations. Alison suggested that small and rural communities should use federal sources to provide a start to their analysis and build on that data with local sources and qualitative information. 

Additionally, she shared that the information from those sources could be integrated with data from two helpful national tools. One of the tools is the National Economic Resilience Data Explorer, which includes “information and data on economic distress criteria, COVID-19 impacts to local economies, and the existence and emergence of industry clusters.” The other tool, the Economic Development Capacity Index, helps users understand their county’s economic development capacity.

The NADO conference connected economic and community development practitioners to share resources and best practices, while also incorporating an innovative approach that allowed attendees to experience local efforts happening in Cleveland.


Fourth Economy has expertise in providing economic assessments and strategic planning for place-based community and economic development, as well as supporting data analysis for communities and organizations. Contact us to learn how we can support your community or organization’s efforts.

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