My name is Clark Smith and I have been practicing economic development my entire career, since 1985. I would say, for the most part, that I have truly enjoyed my time. I started as the exec for the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development in 1985. In 1986 I moved to the Iowa Department of Economic Development where I started as a community consultant and then ran the state’s Business Retention& Expansion program. Five years later I became the Director of Economic Development for Peoples Natural Gas (now Black Hills Energy) where I enjoyed that work for 15 years. In 2005 I left to join Smart Solutions Group where I am a partner. There are very few individuals that have worked at the local, state, utility and consultant level in the economic development profession giving me a unique perspective on the industry.
But there is one truth, economic development really happens at the local level. I would argue more resources should be spent assisting the local EDO Pro.
It is with this belief in mind that I am going to attempt to suggest what an economic development professional should be doing every day of the week over the next year. I will take my past experience and make a todo list for each work day. Over the years, I have observed lots of economic development organizations being pulled in lots of different directions. They begin to forget that the key reason for their being is to create wealth for the citizens in the region they serve. I think the best way to create this wealth is to make sure the region or “product” is the best it can be, assist the local businesses and then let the world know about the “product”. In other words, they should focus on improving the infrastructure, have a great Business Retention &Expansion and entrepreneurial process and then market the region.
Our firm has assisted over 400 EDO’s so we have observed a lot of different organizations and provided suggestions for improvement. We have helped start new EDO’s and I have even provided temporary staffing for several of our clients.
I am not one that likes to draw attention to myself, so this blog is sort of placing me out of my comfort zone. I look at this process as a challenge and a small way to help the profession. I hope new execs will find this blog useful. Actually I hope everyone will find it useful and will even contribute to the blog with suggestions. I will probably post thoughts and activities that several will say “duh” but for some it will be the first time you have heard these things. Or, my suggestion could be the reinforcement you needed to proceed. I will sprinkle some funny stories and provide useful links based on the topic of the day. I promise the rest of my posts will be short and concise unless they involve a funny story.
The blogs are not in order of importance but they are in order of what I would do on my first year at the job. I will just write things as they come to me or they may be based on some current event or news article I have read.
My first story is that I actually knew my senior year in college that I wanted to be a Chamber Exec. So being the young inquisitive man at the time, I scheduled a meeting with the Chamber Exec in my college town. I had never met him before but he was friends with my hometown chamber exec, which had made the introduction for me. Bob walks into the lobby carrying a hammer and greets me. I know I had an odd expression on my face as he laughs and says, “Follow me son.” We walk into his office. He says, “lay your hand on the desk.” I hesitantly place my hand on his desk and he grabs my arm and raises the hammer above his head. I was terrified. I am 6’1” and Bob was maybe 5’7”. I was still terrified. He looked me in the eye and says very seriously,” I am sorry Clark but I have been told you are thinking about getting into the Chamber profession? I am hoping I can pound some sense into you today.” He smiled and lowered the hammer gently to his side. We had a great discussion and he was very honest about all the headaches and challenges a chamber exec faces. But he also slipped and told great stories and I could tell that this man who was getting close to retirement and had been a chamber exec his whole career really loved his work. Tomorrow: “What’s in the office?” It will be dramatically shorter!