In the fast-paced, competitive world of economic development, busy professionals must keep up with a vast amount of information that’s constantly changing. How do they do it?
Technology helps, says Britt Herrin, executive director of the Pike County Economic Development District. “I’m BlackBerried all the time,” he said. “I try to have as much information on me as I can everywhere I go. It’s good to be wired, but you never really get away. It’s almost a 24/7 job.”
Staying in touch
Herrin thinks staying in touch is good because he likes to deal with things while they’re still small — before they get big around the McComb area where retail construction is booming.
That ubiquitous e-mail also helps because it’s available all the time and helps when he can’t reach someone by telephone.
“I never go overnight without a laptop so I can have information at my fingertips,” he said. “It makes it more convenient, and it’s easier than carrying stacks of paper around.”
The human element of a good staff is helpful, too. Herrin, who’s been in Pike County 11 years, reads several hard copies of newspapers every day, including the local paper, the statewide paper and The Wall Street Journal, finding it essential to keep up with business news.
“Staying wired with technology has helped, but I’m still looking at just as many piles of paper on my desk as ever,” he added.
Tim Climer says a person can never know enough in economic development. “You basically work as hard as you can, take a deep breath, then start all over again,” he said.
He moved from Indianola to West Point last June to become executive director of the West Point-Clay County Community Growth Alliance. In addition to the normal amount of information to be processed, he’s getting to know his new community.
“You always have a learning curve when you move because every community is different,” he said, “no matter how much training and experience you have. Even someone who grew up here would have to learn the community in this job.”
He says things are going well in the new position and the organization is implementing a comprehensive plan. “We had some blows with layoffs at Sara Lee and Griffith failed to get a government contract,” he said, “but we’ve overcome it and are moving ahead.”
Climer works during vacations and time off to fit in continuing education for professional certification. He earned the certified economic developer designation through the Community Development Institute at the University of Arkansas and is looking at taking education in specialties such as financial certification.
Noting that he is not a speed reader, he reads four or five newspapers in depth and looks at the highlights of nine or 10. “I read summaries and skim some,” he said. “If I miss a newspaper, it will be something I should see. If you like current events, reading newspapers and Web sites, you will like this job. It’s part of the job description to keep up with politics, the economy, people and cultural changes that are happening.”
He adds that one of the great things about the profession is relying on peers, friends at MDA and MEDC and economic developers in other counties. “I have great friends in the profession and we help each other and share information,” he said. “There’s a good group in Mississippi.”
A team approach
For David Thornell, keeping up with information is a team effort. “It’s often not what you know, but who you know that can share information with our prospects,” he said. “I lean on our state and community partners and Mississippi State University to provide their knowledge to help us.”
Thornell, executive director of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, notes the university has increased its economic development focus and added staff members to the effort, especially with technology-related business.
“We count on everyone doing their part to bring knowledge and do what they can,” he said. “The communications director goes through four newspapers each day, clips relevant information and makes copies. That helps me.”
Still, he says it’s a challenge to keep up and he always has a lot of material to read when he’s away from the office. Web sites are a big enhancement and put even more information at his and everyone else’s fingertips.
Like other developers, Thornell’s BlackBerry makes it possible for e-mail to follow him everywhere he goes. “I’ve had it for three years now, and I’m truly on duty all the time,” he said.
He also feels it’s important to stay informed through continuing education. Fall is the busiest time of the year for conferences that provide education to maintain professional certification.
“We have plenty to choose from and some conferences count more than others,” he said. “I just finished attending international and Southern conferences that count toward maintaining certification.”
Thornell and others in the partnership office are getting ready to move their headquarters in mid-December. “We’re renovating an old bank building — built in 1900 — in downtown Starkville for our offices,” he said. “It will be a nice location for us.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.