Kara Wood leads the city of Grand Rapids’ economic development efforts and guides community business leaders in the advancement of the city’s economic growth through public-private partnerships and assists developers in implementing a variety of development finance incentives. In addition, she advocates for legislative issues to support economic development in the West Michigan region.
Kara holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Michigan State University, an Economic Development Finance Professional Certification from the National Development Council and is a Certified Economic Developer. She also holds a master’s degree in public administration from Western Michigan University’s School of Public Affairs and Administration, where she serves as a professional instructor. She serves on a variety of professional boards and associations, including the Michigan Municipal League Land Use and Economic Development Committee, Michigan Magnet Fund Board of Directors and the Michigan Economic Developers Association Board of Directors.
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?
Networking, relationship building and facilitation skills
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?
Emphasizing the importance of early education and focus on supporting projects that provide opportunities to eliminate income disparities within the local economy
What role do you believe regionalism plays in economic development and do you see the role expanding or contracting?
Regionalism is extremely important in economic development and if you aren’t collaborating as a region, DO IT NOW or get left behind. This role will continue to expand as we become more efficient in the support of employers.
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’ve learned that there will be times in my professional career when I may have to do something I wouldn’t do personally but have to do professionally. I’ve learned to maintain good ethics in the profession and to make sure your professional credibility is not at risk. Also, be the best partner you can be in the collaborative process. I’ve learned not everyone wants to be helpful, but at least you’ve shown your willingness to be at your best.
What are the challenges you believe the economic development profession are going to have to address in the next few years and why?
The challenges in the profession in the next few years will be the continued challenge of working as a region for some. Regional service provision has been going on for decades and some refuse to embrace it. It is the future and will support growth if you are good at it.
We also need to do a better job of communicating what economic development is and what we do to add value. The general public does not understand what our profession is and in order for support in our industry we have to speak up. We have return on investments to show and that word is not getting out to citizens and elected officials. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Specifically, as a local economic development director, term limits will have a direct effect on the profession. It will make our jobs much more complex to educate and advocate for our profession and program funding as more frequent change occurs in our local and state elected officials.