Day 128: Is Economic Development Dead?

Day 128:  Is economic development dead?  I have been reading articles and opinions this year that keep suggesting economic development organizations are becoming obsolete or that they are doing the wrong things.  It is an interesting thought.  I will have to say that our executive search work is getting harder.  We do have to work harder to find good candidates for our rural candidates.  But we end up finding good folks.  Part of the problem, which I have espoused for years, is that the economic development boards never seem to understand economic development is a profession.  Many times, and this goes for rural and metro, they hire someone local to lead the economic development efforts and they have zero experience in economic development.  In previous posts I have used the analogy of arm chair quarterbacks in the community.  We all know how to play football and shout at the quarterback what they should be doing.  But most of us could never actually do it.  But the analogy stops when in the economic development world we actually let someone “quarterback” with no experience.  Now some of these inexperienced folks do end up doing a great job.  But in my thirty years, that is a rare occurrence.  I do not mean to offend anyone that came into economic development with no experience.  But I’m sure I did any way.  So my apologies.  So, that is one reason economic development sometimes goes backwards because of the people we hire.  Another reason is the current economy is still very fragile.  Not many companies are expanding.  So, the economic developers work is harder and the results are skinnier.  The “what have you done for me lately” crowd is gaining traction.  A more serious problem is we are an unknown entity.  For thirty years, when I tell someone I am an economic developer, I get this blank stare, or they say, I hated my economics class.  I don’t know that our profession has ever tried to develop a PR campaign that lets people know what we do.  I would love to see that happen sooner rather than later.  I would suggest IEDC should step this effort up.  If we as a group combined all our successes just think how impressive that number would be.  The last reason we experience trouble is there are some who just plain don’t like anything that has to do with business.  It makes their blood boil when a business gets an incentive or some sort of assistance.  These folks are becoming more effective each year.  I think they are a good group to have, but eventually we need to sit down with them and figure out a win/win with them.  So, is economic development dead?  I hope not since I make my living in this industry.  But we need to do a much better job collectively telling our stories. Next:  How do I tell my story?

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