Looking Ahead at the Annual Meeting

BRW_9919aI have to be honest—I am more excited about this year’s annual meeting than I ever have been before and this is my tenth year as a MEDA member.

The annual meeting is just around the corner!  If you haven’t do so already, get registered today and get ready for an annual meeting like no other!  The planning committee has done an outstanding job of creating an agenda that includes important topics such as a discussion of our profession, current perceptions and realities of economic development and much more.

As co-chair of the Young Professionals Committee, I’m especially looking forward to the panel discussion on the millennial perspective on economic development.  Part of the Committee’s mission is to provide opportunities and to engage young professionals and to ultimately ensure connectivity to industry professionals and establish a network of peers with expertise in the various aspects of economic development.  Creating talent pipelines is a necessity in any industry; we’re no different.  Workforce development continues to be a hot topic of conversation in the many conversations we have in our ED groups, but it’s not one we have on a regular basis about our profession.  Our group often struggles a bit with participation in the various programs we plan.  I’m always asking: why don’t young people want to be economic developers?  Perhaps it might help if we knew how they view what we do and what they feel are important drivers of economic development.  The future of economic development depends on engaging these early career professionals and getting them involved.

The annual meeting gives members an opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues and learn how to get involved with MEDA.  At the lunch meeting on Thursday, the Board of Directors will talk about some of the new ideas for MEDA going forward and some of the priorities we have identified.  Earlier this year, Board members took part in a retreat to talk about how we see MEDA moving forward in the future.  So don’t skip out on the membership meeting and lunch! It really important to be engaged in these types of discussions.

There are plenty of opportunities for networking and meet-ups.  There will be a flipchart in the hotel lobby.  If you want to host an impromptu meet-up, use the flipchart to let everyone know where you’ll be!  Hope to see you there!

Authored by: Stephanie Carroll, Coordinator, Community Relations & Legislative Affairs, City of Auburn Hills.


How does a Chambers of Commerce help drive Economic Development?

church_street_burlingtonAs a professional economic developer, I have had the opportunity to be on both sides of the fence when it comes to participating with local economic development efforts. There certainly is a difference from being a municipal economic developer verses a Chamber executive.

In talking to my Chamber colleagues from around the state, it is interesting how several of them think economic development can be too complicated. I have a difficult time understand the rationale of this statement. Either they have an antiquated definition of economic development, or have been told that Chambers have no place in economic development.  Contrary to that belief, a Chambers of Commerce entire focal point center is on business.  Sometimes perception is reality when it comes to the work of a Chamber.

Certainly this model doesn’t qualify for all types of Chambers. Regional Chambers such as Detroit Regional Chamber and Shiawassee Regional Chamber tend to operate differently than a small or city-focused Chamber, similar to the one I operate at Troy Chamber of Commerce.

So how can a local Chamber of Commerce have an impact on economic development?

Let’s divide this into a few areas and start with business attraction. As economic developers we know that the private sector business usually has a “wish list” and set of requirements when looking at a particular city or town where they wish to locate. It is natural for them to reach out to the community first to learn more about the area. Whether its questions about the tax base, community structure, even asking the question, is the community business friendly? I have found that some companies are interested in having this conversation with a local Chamber. In many cases, Chambers can be the first line of defense for the community and so providing the key information they need many are essential for them to move forward with their planning process.

The second division could involve talent or the workforce. The business has decided to locate their business and is in the need for local talent if possible. They are providing jobs and some Chambers have access to job banks and in many cases, resumes that might be useful for the business. I can personally tell you that I often get resumes from professionals looking for a change in their career.

Third and final division would be retention. I think this is a Chamber strongest asset. When I worked at a municipality, our mantra was “retention was everyone’s job”. I truly believe that. Any interaction a business will have in your community connected to retention. A Chambers strategy should focus on business retention, entrepreneurism, economic gardening, and marketing.

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.

What is Your Definition of Economic Development?

Economics 2 (640x452)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.

Economic Development Tools

Economics 4 (646x346)Most economic development agencies provide programs and tools that benefit our partners and the business community. We welcome businesses of all stages and sizes to stop in and visit with our business development team and let us show you what an asset we can be to your company. Services include business planning, financial planning, market research, marketing, advocacy, business to business opportunities and much more. Face to face support isn’t always required, note that many also have helpful tools that can be accessed from your computer.

ZoomProspector is a site location database available for anyone to use. You can locate Zoom from the home page of our website and on economic development sites at the state and local levels. This program provides comprehensive information to help new, expanding and relocating businesses find the perfect location. You are able to search for buildings, sites and businesses that are for lease or sale. The program filters by square feet, price, zip code and any keywords that you’d like. You can choose assets you are interested in such as redevelopment ready communities, enterprise zones, foreign trade zones, rail access, build to suit and more.

Zoom is updated frequently and connected to the multiple listing service. If you have a site, property or office space that you would like to see listed, contact your local economic development agency to assist you.

Zoom also provides reporting on each property including labor force, demographics, consumer spending, wages, business types nearby and housing nearby. These reports can be exported into PDFs and the information is useful when searching for a property for your business.

Another helpful tool many of us use is SizeUp. This software is designed to show businesses how they can grow and stay competitive. All information is customized to a geographic region and updated quarterly or semi-annually. Here are just some of the features SizeUp offers:

  • Benchmark Performance – See how you “size up” by comparing your business’ performance to other competitors in your industry. SizeUp super-crunches millions of data points to answer this question so businesses know where they stand.
  • Demographic Analysis – Interactively map up-to-date demographic, labor force, and consumer expenditure data for your area, based on hundreds of variables.
  • Assess Competitiveness – Map where your potential competitors, customers, and suppliers are located. Determine how you can best serve existing customers, new customers, and choose suppliers.
  • Find Best Places to Advertise – Determine the optimal areas to target your next advertising campaign based on industry performance and target markets.
  • Exportable Reports – Save and share demographic, consumer expenditure, and workforce reports.
  • User-friendly and Intuitive Interface – No training required! SizeUp is easy to navigate and use, so business owners can quickly find the information they seek.
  • Caches User Information – No need to re-enter the same information on each website visit – SizeUp can access information previously entered on the same computer.

Business owners can find out how their performance compares to competitors in their industry based on benchmarking of their revenue, employees, and years in business, and other measures. An entrepreneur that has yet to start a business can use this tool to assess whether their projections are realistic given the state of the competitive market.

We find these tools are very popular among our business clients and very easy to use. Both are products of GIS Planning who has a strong relationship with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) as the state currently uses Zoom Prospector. Not familiar with these tools? Check out our website at www.marquette.org.

Authored by: Amy Clickner, CEcD, CFRM, Chief Executive Officer, Lake Superior Community Partnership. Amy is the Board Secretary for MEDA’s Board of Directors this year.

Economic Development Career Advancement

medayp_spring_education_eventI chose to write about career advancement in economic development in this month’s blog for various reasons. Among the most important are broadening the professional scope for economic development practitioners, uncovering better ways to address the multiple complexities related to today’s economic development climate, and providing more optimal opportunities for early-career professionals to learn about the practice. I write from the premise of having spent my entire career in various roles ranging from very traditional business development, to working on emerging talent and procurement initiatives, and now, being housed in corporate relations at an academic institution. Considering how my own career has evolved, my interest in developing the next generation of diverse thought-leaders in economic development has grown; which is why I have been committed to the MEDA – Young Professionals (MEDAYP) committee as the chair for the past two years.

MEDAYP efforts are focused on professional development for early-career talent. Two prominent programs that have continued for a second year are “Get Hired for a Day” and the Spring Education series, entitled “Getting Your Feet on the Ground.” Both activities aim to cultivate professionals and provide opportunities to learn more about how to grow and thrive in economic development. It is beneficial for the entire MEDA community because it is our professional responsibility to ensure that there is a well-supported and educated talent pipeline that can be hired into our organizations at various levels for advancement. Not only will it foster new innovations in our work, but also provide a healthy exchange of ideas to address the ever-changing professional climate.

Get Hired for a Day offers an exciting opportunity to generate more exposure for our profession. MEDAYP is looking for mentors and mentors and mentees, so please click the hyperlink to learn more and to sign up for this opportunity.

Getting Your Feet on the Ground is an opportunity for all levels of professionals seeking guidance on how to be effective in a professional environment that can seem broad and in a constant state of evolution. Highlights of creative, yet practical, program initiatives will be presented. Learn more and register by clicking the hyperlink.

Authored by: Clarinda Barnett-Harrison, Director, Business Engagement Center, University of Michigan-Dearborn. Clarinda is Co-Chair of MEDA’s Young Professionals Committee, MEDAYP.

MEDA’s 2015 President – Intro, Focus Areas of Economic Development for the Year

MEDA Members,Wood, Kara

It is a pleasure to serve you as the 2015 MEDA Board of Directors President. After many years of membership in MEDA and participation on the Board, it is an honor to represent my colleagues in economic development across the state.

Thank you to our 2014 President, Ara Topouzian, for his leadership over the past year. MEDA has been strengthened by his commitment and dedication. Fortunately, Ara will continue as a member of the Board. The Board officers this year include Vice President Jennifer Owens, Treasurer Michelle Aniol, and Secretary Amy Clickner.  Members at Large include Luke Bonner, and newly elected Stephanie Carroll, Monique Holliday-Bettie and Karl Dorshimer. Mark Morante continues to serve in an Ex Officio role. We have exceptional staff including Executive Director John Avery, Administrative Manager Cassandra Jorae, and Administrative Assistant Diana Gorvokovic.

MEDA’s membership has remained strong the past several years, in spite of the slowed economy. This is evidence of the hard work of our committees and the value of a MEDA membership. I encourage you to invite others to join. The strength in our organization relies heavily on the strength of committee participation.

An important part of MEDA’s value proposition is our 2015 program offerings which will combine informational content with the opportunity to network with your fellow ED professionals.

According to Governor Snyder, workforce development is the next key area for further improving Michigan’s business climate. Specifically, more career tech training for manufacturing and skilled trades jobs. Expanding programs like the Michigan Advanced Technician Training program and the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. Continuous improvement in all areas of economic development programming and more work with local partners and the business community.

MEDA recognizes the importance of workforce supply and education/training programs. Our state continues to be recognized for our skilled workforce and outstanding educational institutions. However, there is always room for improvement. Your input and support will be needed as the Board works to identify opportunities to support the advancement of workforce availability and worker skill levels throughout the state.

Other areas that MEDA will explore with programming are a direct result of what is happening in the state’s economy including additional growth in venture capital investments, more crowdfunding, higher levels of investment interest in Michigan as Detroit emerges from bankruptcy, manufacturers predicting another year of steady growth, but talent continuing to be a leading concern and continued work toward efficient regionalism.

Your participation is critical to the success of this organization. Email meda@medaweb.org and join a committee today!


Authored by: Kara L. Wood, Economic Development Director, City of Grand Rapids. Kara is MEDA’s 2015 Board President.

How Do We Lean-In? Growing Female Economic Developers

JOIN_MEDA_MEMBERSHIP_Student (427x640)Recently, I had a chance to participate in a panel of female leaders in economic development at the International Economic Development Council’s annual conference in Fort Worth, Texas. The focus of the panel titled “Lean-In” was to examine both the challenges and the successes women economic development leaders have faced and the lessons learned.

The room was packed with 70+ aspiring, up and coming young women and four very enlightened males (thank you for being one of those Ron Kitchens).

The discussion really got my wheels spinning as to how I can lift other women and what advice would I give to myself 13 years ago when I first entered the field. Moreover, how can male leaders who want to support their female colleagues do the same?

Here are some ideas from myself and the panel of amazing women:

  • Mentor/Mentee: As a woman looking to excel, find someone who inspires you and begin a formal mentoring relationship. Most of my panelist had at least four formal mentoring relationships that helped them chart their course and provide honest feedback. For women already in leadership position, take time when approached to be a mentor to offer words of wisdom and regular advice.
  • Confidence: We all agreed that women can be their own worst enemies. Believing that you deserve to lead and demonstrating it to an external audience will take you far. I call it swagger. You have to own the room even if you are screaming on the inside. Speak up when you know the answers and have great insight. Let your voice be heard.
  • Emotions: I have admittedly cried on the job and each instance I would love to take back. Keep your emotions in check. When you are offered feedback that not be viewed as positive, don’t take it personally. You, the individual, is not being judged. Separate yourself from your performance and get stronger with each criticism or set back. A good friend of mine told me to bite the inside of my cheek if you feel emotional. It’s a great way to stop tears.
  • Dress: Dress for how you want others to perceive you. Don’t allow your dress to be a reason to discredit you or take away from your words. I personally despise pants suits and panty hose, but I regularly put them on knowing it is a necessary evil.

Now a few words of advice for those enlightened male leaders. I am forever grateful to those male leaders in our profession that contributed to my professional growth.

Here’s how they helped me:

  • Equal Treatment: Don’t treat your female leaders any different that your male leaders. They will let you know if they have commitments at home or need you to cut them slack.
  • Share: Share the lessons learned on your leadership path. I would recommend sharing stories of your professional struggles and lessons learned that will create deeper connections.
  • Feedback: Provide regular feedback on her progress, both good and bad. Providing honest conversations on a regular basis help most women chart their course to success.

I feel blessed to be female economic development leader in Michigan. When talking to women leaders from other states, it seems that team Michigan is head and shoulders above with many powerful female economic development leaders who have paved the path for newcomers over the past 20 years. They have charted the path for others to follow and now it is my turn to lift other women up and Lean In.

Authored by: Jennifer Owens, President, Lakeshore Advantage Corporation. Jennifer is a Member at Large on MEDA’s Board of Directors.

Go For It!

Raised HandsEver think about joining a MEDA committee or running for the Board? And your next thought is probably “What am I thinking? Stop me before I volunteer again!” That’s normal. Everybody has plenty of work to do already. But I’d recommend doing it anyway. There is a lot to be gained on a personal level as well as for the good of the organization.

I’m about to rotate off of 6 years on the MEDA Board of Directors, and I have no clue how many years on the Education Committee.

What did that time mean to me?

  • Working with people from all over the state, which was a real education in different perspectives and issues.
  • Broadening my network of professional contacts
  • Educating our membership on my organization’s economic development efforts
  • Influencing the direction of a statewide organization
  • Working with some amazingly talented people

What is really unique about volunteering for MEDA is the professional support and attention to detail. John & Cassandra do the overwhelming majority of the legwork when the meeting is over. You will not walk out of a MEDA Committee or Board meeting with a bigger laundry list of work to do! Can’t beat that!

Some of you may be thinking, if it’s so great, why is she rotating off the Board? A fair question! Organizations need fresh blood – new ideas, new thinking. So, if you are at all interested, my advice is “Go for it!”

Authored by: Peggy Black, Principal Account Manager, DTE Energy. Peggy Black spent six years on MEDA’s Board of Directors and two of those years as President.

MEDA Members: View MEDA’s Active Committees and email cjorae@medaweb.org to let her know where you want to participate!

Where Collaboration Shapes Success

AM14Photo (640x640)I don’t know about you but I’m enjoying my Michigan summer so far. Our state has so much to offer in both things to do and people to meet. That’s why I’m really getting excited about my trip to Boyne Mountain Resort this August 20 – 22 for the MEDA Annual Meeting.

This year I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to serve as the Annual Meeting Committee Chair. I know firsthand the caliber of expertise represented on that committee and their professional intent to offer an outstanding agenda for everyone.

In an effort to “reinvent” Michigan there has been a great deal of discussion and emphasis on regionalism, forming partnerships and working collaboratively within and across jurisdictions in an overall effort to streamline processes to increase efficiency and reduce costs. With this in mind, we themed this year’s meeting “Operation Sandbox: Where Collaboration Shapes Success.”

Over the course of the two day conference, we will tackle some of the difficult issues economic developers wrestle with while meeting the challenge of successfully forming practical and meaningful collaborations to “get their job done.” Along the way, we will hear of the success stories from communities who have taken action and formed some very unique partnerships to solve very unique problems. Hint: our list of economic development partners is broadening to include some nontraditional players.

I am also eager to hear our keynote speaker, Della Rucker, Principal at Wise Economy, who wrote The Local Economy Revolution, What’s Changed and How You Can Help. I read and thoroughly enjoyed her book. She speaks about a sea change in the way the world works today and how communities and economic developers may need to adjust their thinking on how they approach these changes. I expect some interesting recommendations.

So, as I said, I’m very excited this summer to be in Michigan and to be a part of the important work that is being done to keep Michigan moving forward. But, there is always more to learn, more interesting people to meet so I hope you will join me in August for the MEDA Annual Meeting.

See you in August!


Marsha Madle, CBSP
Madle Consulting Services, LLC
Meridian Township EDC

Educational Attainment Delivers Economic Returns

ImageIt has become known that education is the most important engine of economic growth and individual financial gain. There is little doubt that our success in growing a stronger economy and lifting incomes will depend on getting better results in education, from cradle to career.

Helping to address the regional goal of 60% educational attainment by 2025, I have the privilege of working with leaders at all levels in the education, nonprofit, community, civic, and philanthropic sectors to tackle some of the most pressing challenges and take advantage of some of our biggest opportunities. There are a variety of programs that track outcome indicators across the cradle to career spectrum with the ultimate goal of higher educational attainment at all levels.

Because this is such an important element in the future of our region, together we have evaluated the latest educational attainment data for our region, looking at both local progress and how we compare to other peer areas. Specifically, there is a clear positive relationship with median earnings and an inverse relationship with the unemployment rate at a national level.

Educational Attainment in the Urban Core

With the release of the American Community Survey (ACS) 2005-2009 5-Year estimates, Educational Attainment data are available for smaller geographies for the first time outside of the decennial censuses. The data are based on a rolling annual sample survey mailed to about 3 million addresses between Jan. 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2009. By pooling several years of survey responses, the ACS can generate detailed statistical portraits of smaller geographies. The Census Bureau will release a new set of 5-year estimates every year, giving communities a powerful tool to track local trends over time. In the urban core, the low hanging fruit is educational attainment for the 25-35 age group that has some college and the City of Grand Rapids knows that supporting the completion of a certificate program or a college degree in this age bracket will produce quick and meaningful results.

Educational Attainment in the Region

Educational Attainment is a key indicator for our region as a whole. Educational Attainment data from can be found for the entire Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), as well as by county, in the new census data portal. Data are provided on Percent of the Population 25 and Older with an Associate’s Degree or Higher, along with other indicators.

There is, of course, data to show multiple levels of attainment. MSA and peer region data related to the Percent of the Population 25 and Older with Bachelor’s Degree or Higher is something economic developers should evaluate and consider when determining what work still needs to be done.  

The data can also be broken out by other levels of attainment and by age. It is important to look at all the data and help ensure that our region is moving up at all levels. The data can also be broken out by age and this is where we see some positive movement for your region.

I challenge you to compare your city, county, village, township, region to others in the state and peers outside the state to determine how competitive you are now and what work is needed to make you more competitive in the future. The future of our state is our talent and if we don’t have a talented workforce we can’t attract the economic activity.

Authored by: Kara Wood, Economic Development Director, City of Grand Rapids. Kara serves as Treasurer on MEDA’s Board of Directors.