We Have Lost Our Way In Economic Development

Ed Burghard

The highest courage is to dare to be yourself in the face of adversity. Choosing right over wrong, ethics over convenience, and truth over popularity.  These are the choices that measure your life. Travel the path of integrity. There is never a wrong time to do the right thing.

Source: Successories

I don’t know if you have seen this newscast on the debate over filling a Director vacancy in the Green Bay economic development department. The Mayor and the City Council President argue over 1) the importance of the role in today’s environment versus 10 – 20 years ago, and 2) what the job description of the role actually is.

“Sparks Fly Over City’s Vacant Economic Development Post”

This discourse is disconcerting (I wanted to start my day with an alliteration) on a number of levels.

  1. Politics are playing too big a role in impeding the economic development profession. I highly doubt Green Bay is the only community where this is the case. Partisan politics and self interest are barriers to progress economic developers have to find a way to work around daily.
  2. The impact on community residents is completely absent from the conversation. The focus is on business and supply chain interests. Yet, in my opinion the real “boss” is the residents of Green Bay. Attracting, retaining and expanding jobs is simply a means to an end. But, it isn’t the only consideration in economic development.
  3. The conversation reflects that economic development is practiced in a silo as opposed to being an important driver of Green Bay’s 20-year strategic plan. If it was seen as a mission critical activity, the focus would be on back filling the position with the best candidate as quickly as possible so Green Bay doesn’t fall behind on the agreed-to tactics to deliver the strategic plan.
  4. The purpose of economic development is not clear. This is probably the worst of the four observations. Unless the profession does a better job of defining the value it provides, this conversation is destined to be discussed ad nauseum. I advocate that the purpose is to better enable residents to achieve their American Dream. It is the singular mission that all organizations within a community can rally around and it puts the needs of residents at the center of all decisions regarding asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policy/program development.

I hope Green Bay gets its act together soon. The residents deserve a viable and comprehensive economic development effort. It is a great city, but at risk of becoming non-competitive if it can’t resolve an issue as simple as the need to backfill an open Director position for its economic development department.

My guess is each of us can see aspects of this Green Bay debate in our own communities. I urge you to shift the focus to enabling residents to better achieve their American Dream and begin working against what really matters.

Just my 2 cents.  What is yours?

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