I’m a generalist by nature. When people ask me how I made the transition from journalist to economic developer, I tell them they’re the same job with different customers.
As a reporter, I frequently started the day knowing next to nothing about my topic. My task was to gain a solid background understanding, conduct interviews and distill the information for a story that readers could enjoy and use.
Now that I’m in economic development, I start the day knowing next to nothing about a topic, gather background information, talk to people, and distill the information into a format that a business or community leader can use. (And the deadlines are even worse.)
This is a self-flattering way of saying that my knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep.
The breadth of economic development is my favorite aspect of the career, even though it is rarely recognized by the public. Most folks focus on the next new warehouse or expanded factory. In truth, those are champagne-soaked victory celebrations. The game is played in a thousand preparatory steps involving infrastructure, education, taxation, beautification and more.
I was reminded of the scope of economic development this week at the annual meeting of the advisory council for the University of Northern Iowa’s Institute for Decision Making.
IDM, an outreach arm of the university’s Business and Community Services, is among the Corridor’s most valued advisors. For 30 years, they’ve been helping towns and organizations across the state develop and execute plans for growth.
Oh my goodness, is that an open-ended responsibility. In the past year, IDM staffers started building a program to foster innovation in Iowa companies, wrote a public relations plan for a regional economic development group, assisted a tourism program in a university town, coached a hospital board, connected talented physics students with manufacturing companies in need, and aided the leaders of a small-town in creating a sustainable community engagement model.
And that’s just one area of their work. It doesn’t touch on the support they provide for the BEST of Iowa business retention and expansion program, regional Laborshed reports, workforce development, etc.
At this point, it’s appropriate to thank my friends at IDM for their expertise and for the honor of serving on their advisory board. Thanks to the state legislature for providing funding for a such a valuable program, as well.
But that’s not my goal with these few paragraphs. Instead, I want to encourage readers to become curious about the whys and hows of growing our local economy. When you recognize the diversity of economic development, you’ll also begin to recognize the roll you can and do play. Do you plant flowers on Main Street? You’re an economic developer. Do you mentor a young business person? You’re an economic developer. If you’re engaged in improving the local community, you’re engaged in economic development.
What’s more, because you know your subject so well, you make the overall effort in our region stronger. We can’t all be generalists.
So, fellow economic developer, come join the Corridor and a couple hundred of your peers November 13 at the annual Business Recognition Luncheon. We will celebrate the best in area business. We’ll hear from the co-hosts of “Develop This,” the nation’s #1 economic development podcast, on trends around the nation. Most importantly, we’ll enjoy the collective recognition that we’re all in this together.