Occasionally, I am asked by non-economic developers what is the definition of economic development. I am always somewhat amazed by that question as I would think it is a fairly common and used phrase in today’s society. Recently, I was once again asked this question but this time it reminded me of a presentation I heard a several years ago by Doug Smith, Senior Advisor for Urban Initiatives for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. I don’t remember the exact quote, but Doug’s definition included a mixture of community development and business development that would in turn create economic development. In talking to Doug recently, he has since added the word ‘Talent’ to that equation, crediting Governor Rick Snyder for adding that component as an important piece to this ‘recipe’ of economic development.
Over the years I have heard my colleagues give some great definitions of economic development. In essence, they all same the same thing, but it is interesting to hear these perspectives. Whether you are connected to a municipality, part of the private sector or an economic development association, the descriptions are worth reading.
Here is what a few people said to me as what they felt were good definitions of economic development.
“Economic development is the set of systems to retain, expand, and attract private investment to a specific place that contributes to the long-term vitality and sustainability of a community with increasing quality jobs, tax base contributions, and amenities.” Clay Pearson, City Manager, Pearland, Texas.
“Economic development for government is really setting the table for those who like to eat. In other words economic development is a relationship building exercise where the government body courts a developer/company and as they get to know each other, like each other and trust each other the government body helps the development through what the private sector sees as a complicated procedure written in a foreign language with rules that can change with the swing of an election or personality and whims of government planners and inspectors.” Pete Auger, City Manager, Novi, Michigan.
“Economic development is the sustained, concerted actions of policy makers and communities that promote the quality of life and economic health of a city.” Gerard Dettloff, Owner, Downtown Management Strategies.
“Economic development is the combination of efforts that seek to create greater prosperity and improve the quality of life for a community through the creation of and/or retention of jobs that results in supporting or growing incomes and the tax base.” Arnold Weinfeld, CEO and Board Chair, Prima Civitas.
“Economic development is a series of strategies, programs and resources that communities provide or connect to in order to attract new businesses, grow existing businesses and expand the local tax base.” Glenn Lapin, Economic Development Specialist, City of Troy
“Economic development to me is the investment into a community through the development of infrastructure, new businesses, and retention of current businesses. The inflow of revenue then positively impacts the local community through increased spending, employment, and community investment.” Cynthia Stump, Area Manager, ITC
I would like to end with a quote from one of my favorite consultants on economic development, Dr. Ernesto Sirolli. His interpretation on sustainable economic development has always been an interesting one he offers words to live by in my opinion. “The key to really helping communities is to “become a servant of the local passion,” said Sirolli, “the future of every community lies in capturing the passion, energy and imagination of its own people.”
Which definition do you identify with for your organization? Perhaps you would like to comment on your own version?
Authored By: Ara Topouzian, President and Chief Executive Officer, Troy Chamber of Commerce. Ara is a Member at Large of MEDA’s Board of Directors and was Board President in 2014.