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Partnership News and Views

Amy Clickner, CEO, Lake Superior Community Partnership

“Economic development is a noble calling. The opportunity to make a positive difference in a community and in people’s lives makes for a personally fulfilling profession for many people.

Economic development is also complex, sensitive work, involving the high-profile balancing of multiple stakeholder interests. As such, economic developers must respond to questions about or challenges to their strategies and practices as a part of the job.

Some of these challenges or issues are unique and some are perennial. Broadly speaking, common challenges include general misunderstanding of economic development, its purpose and impact; transparency and accountability; and ideological opposition.”

Above is straight from the International Economic Development Council’s Economic Development Research Partners’ newest research paper “Championing Economic Development” and speaks to the challenges we, as economic developers, need to overcome regarding our profession. With highly publicized development projects such as Foxxconn and Amazon HQ2 garnering significant media attention, it is easy to see how the facts can sometimes get lost along the way. It is, therefore, even more critical that economic development organizations help our investors, partners, clients and other various stakeholders to better understand, support and work collaboratively with us.

The report continues to remind us that, “Economic development touches everyone’s life in a community. New jobs are available for neighbors. Vacant storefronts are filled. Blighted blocks becomes hubs of activity. New revenues save residents from tax increases. These are just a few of the everyday outcomes of economic development, apart from the outsize role that economic developers often play in a crisis such as a plant closure, or natural disaster.

The point is that economic development’s stakeholders, and potential champions, are many.

So in addition to contributing to the economic vitality of their communities, economic developers must also embrace the role of educator. They must be prepared to explain, describe and build consensus for their work and for its impact on communities. They must act with accountability and transparency. The work requires building and sustaining the trust of the public and a variety of constituencies, whether an economic development organization is publicly funded or a private-sector organization working with government to support the business environment.

To earn that trust, economic developers must be credible, consistent and dedicated to the value of their work. They cannot assume that people know what they do and why, or that they act in the public interest; economic developers must constantly articulate their value and processes to others.”

I have written about the value proposition of economic development in past columns, and today, still struggle with the best way to articulate value. Although, I have learned that the value proposition for economic development may be one thing to one audience and something completely different to another. For example, a local unit of government may look at increasing property tax revenue as economic development as it funds their projects and services. To a manufacturer, economic development may be the attraction of one of their suppliers to the local region. And for someone in the tourism industry, the two former examples bring in additional tax revenue that maintain and grow trails and parks that attract people to our area for a visit.

One column is simply not enough space to share all my thoughts on the subject. So stay tuned as I break down this topic further in my next column.

P.S. Don’t forget about the LSCP Annual Dinner. Tickets can be reserved by registering on our website or calling our office by Feb. 18. For more information on attending or sponsoring please contact Ashley Szczepanski, Marketing & Events Manager, at 906-226-6591 Ext. 106 or ashley@marquette.org. You can also visit our website, www.marquette.org, for more information.

Editor’s NOTE: Amy Clickner is CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership. Her twice-monthly column will address topics of interest to the local business community.