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PHIL HARDWICK — Economic development Q&A


May is the month of graduations and the month that the week of economic development is recognized nationally and in Mississippi. Graduates who are considering a career in economic development often ask the questions listed below.

First, what is economic development?

It is the process of increasing the wealth of a community. Some definitions refine it by adding things like, “through the creation, expansion and retention of jobs,” “recruiting new industries to the area,” “using technology, “creating sustainability,” or “improving the quality of life for all citizens.” But in its purest form, it’s about increasing wealth.

How do you measure increasing wealth?

The essence of economic development is that more money comes into a community than leaks out, or leaves the community. Measuring that can get complicated sometimes. Generally, an increase in sales tax collections and/or the assessed value of property is used. Some organizations choose to use workforce productivity as a measure.
What do economic developers do?

Short answer. Economic developers are primarily facilitators. They help make it easier for the parties involved in creating wealth to come together and complete a transaction.

What are the skills needed for economic developers?

Finance, real estate, negotiation, communication, and marketing just to name a few.

What’s the best background for an economic development career?

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to informally research that question by asking a group of those in attendance the 2012 Mississippi Economic Development Council (MEDC) annual summer conference about their previous occupations. The results are presented below.

Those surveyed were in attendance at the program on Friday morning of the conference. Attendees were comprised of a variety of people involved in economic development in some form. Most were economic developers or chamber of commerce professionals. Almost all were members of MEDC, which is their professional association.

The methodology in this survey was very simple. I asked a roomful of conference attendees to write down on a piece of paper the answer to this question:  What was your occupation immediately prior to your entering the field of economic development?  I received 122 responses. Here are the top 10 responses by percent:

Marketing            15.6%
Management        8.2%
Student                  8.2%
Government          7.4%
Lender/banker     6.6%
Engineer                5.7%
Educator                5.7%
Business owner    4.9%
Accountant            4.1%
Attorney                 3.3%

What’s your advice for someone who’s trying to make a decision about an economic development career?

Go to the Mississippi Economic Development Council annual conference. There you will meet economic developers, attend programs on trends and issues, and generally get a feel about whether this is the profession you want to pursue.

Where should I look for economic development jobs?

I recommend starting your career with a relatively large organization such as the state economic development agency, one of the utility companies or a large regional economic development organization. That should provide you with a broad overview of the profession early on in your career.

What’s the worst thing you’ve seen in your career?

Economic developers disparaging other locations in order to get a company to move there.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen in your career?

Hundreds of people getting better jobs and being able to improve their lives and the quality of life in their communities.


»  PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His email address is phil@philhardwick.com.


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