Madison Silvert, J.D., AICP is President and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation. The Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation is the primary economic development office for the Owensboro region. Greater Owensboro is the business, retail, medical and cultural hub of the western Kentucky region. It is located on the Ohio River in northwest Kentucky. Owensboro is Kentucky’s fourth largest city with a regional workforce that is 250,000 people strong.
Entrepreneurism is an area of passion for Madison. He has been sharing his passion with aspiring entrepreneurs as an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Kentucky Wesleyan College since 2008. I love his unique take on how to deal with political influences in economic development (read below). It is an example of a practical perspective I would expect an entrepreneur to take when faced with a frustrating challenge. I know you will enjoy this interview with Madison.
If somebody were interested in becoming an economic development professional, what are the 2 or 3 work skills you would tell are critical to success?
Communication skills are essential for any job, but this is doubly true for economic development professionals. An ED practitioner must be able to clearly and concisely communicate the competitive advantages of their community in a way that the client easily understands.
In addition to communication skills, an ED professional must be flexible and open to new ideas. The world of economic development constantly evolving, and the wise professional will evolve along with it.
Finally, an economic development professional must be ethical and courteous. For many of our clients, their first interaction with us will not be their last. Your reputation is vital to your continued and future success.
As you think about how the economic development profession works, what is the area you believe it could and should do a better job in?
We need to do a better job of advocating for those areas that contribute or take away from our success at a state and local level. Education, transportation, the health of our workforce—these are all vital to our success.
What role do you believe regionalism plays in economic development and do you see the role expanding or contracting?
Intrastate regionalism is particularly important and vital to success. For many of us, we find ourselves competing with neighboring communities when we both serve the same labor pool. This is counterproductive and a waste of resources. Our competition is not our neighbors. However, interstate regionalism is a much more difficult proposition. Communities whose regions include communities from bordering states will have a difficult time if that bordering state has a more competitive tax structure, incentive offerings, and labor climate.
What are the similarities and differences you see in the approach to attracting foreign direct investment the same as attracting domestic investment?
The approach is similar in that you still have to be able to demonstrate that your community will provide a healthy environment to maximize a client’s return on investment. However, with foreign investment, you have to demonstrate a much more clear understanding of the competitive advantages of your state or country as a whole. In many cases, the investor may be considering opportunities in multiple countries, not just multiple communities. A global perspective is essential.
Can you share a couple stories of ah-ha moments you’ve experienced in the profession and what you learned from those moments that helped you going forward?
I had an opportunity to be a part of a community redevelopment plan several years ago. It has been wildly successful for our community, and was supported from our economic development office mainly as a way to attract and retain young talent. The workforce angle was quickly lost, and the motivations for the project became more about personalities than future growth needs. I learned quickly that political forces can reshape and repackage the reasons why a project is supported in the first place—and that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If the people can still support it, and the end result can still be realized, it does not matter who gets the credit or why, merely that the community’s needs can be met.
What are the challenges you believe the economic development profession are going to have to address in the next few years and why?
I think the biggest challenge of the next few years will be shifting demographics and the inability for smaller communities to compete for larger projects due to population constraints. New incentives will have to be developed based on the individual and providing opportunity for potential workers to see the advantages of living and working outside of major population centers.
As the baby boom generation retires, and the Millenials consistently move toward larger cities, where does that leave the labor pool of the small community? This is less of a challenge and more of a crisis. Communities that have positioned themselves with livability improvements will remain competitive to a degree, and those that have ignored what a worker does after 5pm will continue to diminish.