Interview with Joy Wilkins – Economic Development Expert
Joy Wilkins is manager of the Community Innovation Services group at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and oversees the development and delivery of the Institute’s services for leaders in economic development representing cities, counties, regions, and state and federal entities. She is a Certified Economic Developer and a frequent advisor, public speaker, instructor, and author on economic development, strategic planning, and quality management topics. Joy serves on the International Economic Development Council Board of Directors. Her experience in academia and previously with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce provides her with a unique perspective on Brand America. I am confident you’ll find Joy’s thoughts on the challenges facing Brand America and how to address them enlightening.
- Question: How would you articulate Brand America’s promise?
Life in America is an opportunity for continual improvement where people can quite meaningfully and regularly reinvent themselves toward doing something better. I consider myself to be nothing short of blessed to be in a nation under God which recognizes that people, as our founding fathers said best, “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” As a result, this is a country where success is a self-fulfilling prophecy; where no matter how well we did in the past, we can always do better; and where each generation has the opportunity to improve the human condition. This is the American story.
- Question: What are the challenges that Brand America must address to consistently be seen as "walking the talk"?
Perhaps the greatest challenge in sustaining the reality of the Brand America promise lies in the continual development of our human capital. From infanthood through elderhood, it is imperative to help individuals maximize their potential to help ensure that America — a country where every person counts — can truly realize its full potential. Regardless of race, gender, income, or background, every human being faces challenges that could put him or her at-risk. Helping people learn how to overcome their obstacles and improve their productive capacity is economic development at the most personal level. With the right support — through our educational and other community assets — our country’s experiences have proven how individuals can and do make an incredible difference and how ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary goals.
Another challenge concerns how we relate to each other. This country is an incredible place of heterogeneity where people from virtually every walk of life can be found. It is akin to a living laboratory for maximizing the potential of such human interaction — where each interaction is a transactional opportunity to build the type of strong relationships that are inherently important in Brand America. To this end, however, we have a way to go. Internal differences, when not understood or respected, have lead to internal divisiveness. As America grows and becomes more complex, the country is threatened by a growing sense of “disconnect” among people. Whether you’re talking about an organization or community, helping people connect to each other is essential for such groupings to be effective. This has been well documented through the writings of Malcolm Gladwell, John Maxwell, Susan Scott, and a number of others who have examined sociological matters. I’ve seen examples of where pre-school and kindergarten-age children from diverse backgrounds are in the same group and openly ask each other questions about their differences. In asking these questions, it is evident they do not mean offense and are simply curious. And the children being asked often supply the answer of “I’m_____” without further thought. Helping our children maintain a healthy respect for our differences could enable them to become more connected community members in the future.
- Question: What are the traits of Brand America that people around the world are likely to find appealing?
Most stories of people succeeding against significant odds are believable by everyday Americans because they are real to what our country has been all about since its founding. We have seen examples of such people time and time again throughout history. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and the Wright Brothers are a few among a plethora of American innovators who changed the way the world works. Countless Americans, some famous, some not-so-famous, have followed in their imaginative footsteps. However, their stories are typically not simply stories of good fortune. Instead, their stories often tell of a journey which involved a combination of creativity, inventiveness, hard work, perseverance, risk-taking, resiliency and heart.
- Question: What are the different ways Brand America can keep its promise?
Beyond addressing the challenges already mentioned, it is critical to make leadership development an everyday priority so that we are continually breeding our next generation of problem-solvers. This is the number one way for America to continually invest in ourselves, and, provide a way for everyday people of diverse backgrounds to become part of the solutions of tomorrow.
We also need to be ever vigilant in our focus on helping individuals to reach their full potential through economic development efforts. These efforts include those by inventors seeking to commercialize their ideas; by entrepreneurs working to launch successful enterprises; by employers working to grow and sustain their operations; by individuals seeking to achieve meaningful career pathways; and by investors seeking to maximize the return on their investments.
Broadly speaking, America should continue and build on its track record of being a country of grand experimentation, where innovation in how we address problems — whether they be economic, social, or environmental — is enthusiastically encouraged from K-12 to beyond.
- Question: What is the importance of Brand America in the world?
Brand America offers a daily testimony to people around the world that freedom does work…
- Question: Who benefits from a strengthened Brand America?
By strengthening Brand America, we are protecting and fortifying the promise of human betterment for all concerned.
- Question: Do you believe Brand America has a relevant, competitive and authentic promise?
Yes, I believe it has an ageless promise…and has birthed a country where human triumph is possible in the face of adversity.