My state ED organization just sent out a survey to get a handle on our membership and what we do. I commend them on that. It is good to have this information and I hope it will be used to educate politicians and the public.
So here's the problem. After getting through the usual public or private?, what's your budget?, and how many people work there? questions, they got to the meat. What do you do? And the choices were the ones that, I am sure, were on the first survey of economic developers ever put together; the kind of thing you might find in a text book from the 1950's. Economic diversification. Business retention. Business attraction.
It is a sad reflection of the backwardness within the profession of economic development, that not even the practicioners see the big picture. Excuse the shout. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IS NOT ABOUT CHASING INDUSTRY! IT IS ABOUT CREATING CAPACITY WITHIN A COMMUNITY TO ACHIEVE THE ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY AND QUALITY OF LIFE DESIRED BY ITS CITIZENS!
A good economic development agency will spend only part of its time in selective business attraction and part of its time in bolstering desirable existing industrial groupings. Half or more of its time should be spent in working to create the right conditions for the desired industries and improving the local quality of life. That may mean high speed internet access and wireless community networks, bike paths, environmental quality, educational programs and the like.
Another case in point. Our state is coming up with a grand plan to boost the economy of the state. It is a complete joke! Grounded in empty statistics that fail to paint an accurate picture of the situation but are politically popular, it rehashes a handful of weak ideas borrowed from other states that can at best only superficially deal with the underlying problems. Its name, "Build Wisconsin" harkens back to the "Build Illinois" program of the 1980's. Its ideas are about as fresh.
It is frustrating to have vision; to see the big picture and continually run up against the myopic and narrow-minded ideas of those who allegedly lead our state and our profession. I take comfort in the fact that there are a handful of others in my state who share my desire to see a new paradigm, a new definition of economic development for a new century. Perhaps if we continue to push....