By Elijah Cleary
When you think about the words “Economic Development” what comes to mind? Before I was in this industry most people, including myself, would either not be interested or believe it was more complicated than it was. However, when residents see a new company come to their town or a local business expanding into a second store that is considered economic development. Previously, I did not realize that everyone is involved in the process and the most valuable resource for economic development is the workforce. Without the availability of a viable workforce, everything falls apart!
One of the first areas I thought I should master is the “lingo” of the industry. Receiving my bachelors from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, I’ve seen a direct correlation between success and industry jargon. If a person can communicate and understand the language of an industry, then they are halfway to obtaining knowledgeable expertise in that field. My instructor recommended that I should start with Economic Development Research Partners, ‘Championing Economic Development’. This was an excellent reading to start with because it provided me with a foundation of what economic development is. “The opportunity to make a positive difference in a community and in people’s lives makes for a personally fulfilling profession for many people.” (Championing Economic Development, Anderson and Gosh). This is one of the first lines of the book and it captivated me. The statement stood out to me because making a difference in the average American life and community means a lot to me. I’ve always wanted to be able to give back, not only to my own community but to communities globally as well and this career gives me the opportunity to do that!
Next, we moved on to the International Economic Development Council’s, ‘Introduction to Economic Development. My feelings in the stage were torn, on one hand, I was excited to learn new information, but I was also afraid. What if it was boring? Or what if I didn’t like it? What motivated me during this stage was a promise that I made to myself, always be a lifelong learner. When I began reading the book, I started by taking detailed notes. The book was more like a manual that I would be able to quickly reference when I needed it. The purpose of the manual is to provide a sturdy foundation in the essential techniques and practices of economic development. One of the first lessons I learned from the manual, is that any economic development strategy should be based on the needs of the community and never around the wants of an organization. Every community has basic needs, assets, and goals and those should align with your local economic development organization. In relation, another important topic that stood out to me is that communities should attract businesses their workforce is equipped for. For example, cities such as North Carolina and Maryland are known for their healthcare education. As a result of that, they attract supporting companies such as healthcare technology companies, healthcare staffing and recruiting, and even a one-off from companies who dispose of bio-hazard medical materials.
In addition to the readings, my instructor had me write my 30,60-, and 90-day goals. I thought this was interesting because writing my goals while I still was learning allowed me to see how far my thoughts on economic development have come. The 30,60-, and 90-day goals can be thought of as a three-rung ladder. The first rung should be easy to reach and serve as a solid foundation for the next step. My 30-day goal list was the smallest, I made sure my goals in the section were simple and realistic. I wanted to make sure I got into good habits in the first 30 days that would set me up for success. Next, I wrote my 60-day goal. At this point, I had a little more understanding of economic development so my goals in this section were more intermediate. The more knowledge you gain the bigger your goals should be! Finally, I completed writing my 90-day goals. This was the most intense of the ladder because, by this point, I was finished with the readings and was continuing to build on top of my 30 and 60-day goals. During this time, l had participated in a few projects, so this made my goals a lot clearer. Writing down my 30,60-, and 90-day goals gets my thoughts on paper and make them more realistic, but more importantly, it holds me accountable as well!
Overall, my experience with economic development has shed light on how interrelated communities are. To succeed in building a vibrant community, economic development organizations need to have a harmonized approach with the residents of the communities that they serve. It sounds simple, but when you think about all the different cultures, races, and political backgrounds in one community its not such an easy task. But with the correct approach, the right attitude, and strong desire to help the community flourish can contribute to bringing people together, which is the driving engine that makes economic development possible.