Economic Development

Almost every community and most everyone in public office wants ‘economic development’ but very few people agree on what economic development actually is.  The term  ”economic development”  came into being after World War II.  There are a number of definitions being used nowadays that refer to economic development, depending on who you talk to and what organization they represent.  Economic development can  be described as “a process that influences growth and restructuring of an economy to enhance the economic well being of a community or region” or “the process of creating wealth through the mobilization of human, financial, capital, physical, and natural resources to generate marketable goods and services.”  Economic development is not selling hamburgers back and forth between community groups or hosting community events where everyone comes to town to take part in the local event.

A decade or two ago, economic development primarily meant ‘smoke stack’ chasing (trying to recruit big industry to a community or region).  A lot of resources and time can be put into chasing an industry or a large business to relocate in your area only to find much later than your community was never in the running – and the prospect moved to another centre where there was a fully developed industrial park, a ‘built to suit tenant’ industrial building, larger workforce and a wide variety of ‘quality of life’ attributes.  Meanwhile, your community has spent all its resources trying to chase down one prospect and there is nothing left to pursue economic development concerns or opportunities within the community.

Since those earlier years, the profession of economic development has become much more professional and diversified – as well as more strategic.  Economic development now includes initiatives to retain existing businesses and create a business environment that will enable local businesses to expand and prosper.   Economic development strategies such as business recruitment, investment attraction, strategic alliances and partnerships, entrepreneurship, workforce development, downtown revitalization, tourism development, updating the official municipal plan to increase capacity for growth and improving municipal infrastructure, etc. – are all part of today’s economic development practitioner’s ‘tool kit’.   Economic development is often thought of as a ‘marketing activity’ but, as you can see, it is much more than just marketing.

While ‘economic development’ is focused on job creation, workforce development, building capacity for business growth and investment, “community development’, on the other hand, is more internally focused on getting the community ready for economic development….enhancing quality of life things like appropriate housing, schools, transportation, recreation, organizational development, community beautification and improvements/additions to municipal infrastructure.

The size of a community and the partnerships it has been able to foster often determines the type of economic development organization it might have…..economic development efforts can begin with a part time staff person and a volunteer committee of council made up of an appropriate mix of business, municipal and service provider representation from within the community or area.   Since business is the economic ‘driver’, the majority of representation on the committee should come from the business sector.  Larger communities would have a full time, certified economic development officer, possibly some other paid staff and be a stand alone, incorporated entity with a board of directors.

Submitted by Edie Spagrud, Ec.D.