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Thread: Is this really all there is to economic development?

  1. #1
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    Is this really all there is to economic development?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bl19RoR7lc

    I'm not sure if this link will show, but this clip by John Oliver scares me. I was really hoping that the Economic Development profession would be able to help me help communities for the better -- not hurt them!

    So I guess my question becomes, is this standard operating procedure in the day-to-day of the average economic developer or is this (hopefully) rather atypical?

    I'm still an undergrad charting out my path so forgive me for my question as I don't have any experience in the field yet. But I would just like to understand how economic development happens and what to expect before leaping into this profession with both feet.

  2. #2
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Economic Development is an odd concept. We very much want to believe that the "free" market guides our development patterns. Businesses who are growing will pick the places that have the best amenities we tell ourselves.

    The truth is that many communities value the short term win over the long term viability of the city or the region. Much of this is political. They would rather be able to say they "created" jobs now, then say that they created an environment which fosters jobs. Amazon and FoxConn are great examples of what is wrong with economic development. Why should a city give billions to a company? Let that company pick a city and then the city can help. If you give a billion, you are relying on a lot of guarantees to get jobs, housing, or whatever else that company promises you.

    Instead, if we invested the billions in infrastructure, or small business loans, or a myriad of other tools, we would see a much larger impact with those dollars.

    The problem is that businesses will say that the free market is important, while having their hand out to get as much out of government as they can. Until we either A. Disincentivise cities from doing this, or B. incentivise cities who are not doing this, we are going to keep seeing one company jump for local city to local city providing no additional benefit to the region, but milking the governments as they go. Five years here, ten years there, as long as they get tax abatements or free loans.

    Just my two cents.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

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    Quote Originally posted by Hink View post
    Economic Development is an odd concept. We very much want to believe that the "free" market guides our development patterns. Businesses who are growing will pick the places that have the best amenities we tell ourselves.

    The truth is that many communities value the short term win over the long term viability of the city or the region. Much of this is political. They would rather be able to say they "created" jobs now, then say that they created an environment which fosters jobs. Amazon and FoxConn are great examples of what is wrong with economic development. Why should a city give billions to a company? Let that company pick a city and then the city can help. If you give a billion, you are relying on a lot of guarantees to get jobs, housing, or whatever else that company promises you.

    Instead, if we invested the billions in infrastructure, or small business loans, or a myriad of other tools, we would see a much larger impact with those dollars.

    The problem is that businesses will say that the free market is important, while having their hand out to get as much out of government as they can. Until we either A. Disincentivise cities from doing this, or B. incentivise cities who are not doing this, we are going to keep seeing one company jump for local city to local city providing no additional benefit to the region, but milking the governments as they go. Five years here, ten years there, as long as they get tax abatements or free loans.

    Just my two cents.
    Thank you so much for your response, Hink! So much to soak up!

    I'm rushing home now after work and will respond in much detail later, but if I could ask one question for the time being

    Is this pretty much what to expect of a typical future career in Economic Development? Just using the local government to cut deals with wasteful companies that come in and do nothing because they aren't held to any standard?

    I'm an undergrad going to school in Miami and have always been fascinated by how Miami has developed as opposed to say St. Louis (hometown). It is my dream to understand how to economically develop communities into being self-sufficient as well as play a central role in the future process of creating economically-sound cities. Would you say economic development career field is what I am looking for that will help me achieve this goal or am I just dreaming?

    Thanks for any advice!
    Last edited by mendelman; 17 May 2018 at 8:25 AM.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Iím not an economic developer, but Iíve seen the work of many who work on the local level. The good economic developers I know help educate public officials and provide a historical perspective on issues, are good grant writers, know how to promote their place/region, know how to successfully engage the public, and have their ear to the ground about trends and shifts in the business world as well as state and federal policies.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    I work in economic development in a large county. We don't offer incentives but the state can and we do occasionally work with employers to help work with the state to get those incentives but in reality those are pretty few and far between. While we were involved in our regional effort to lure Amazon here (we didn't make the cut to the final 20) much more of our time is spent working on economic development through other modes: facilitating small business loans through the SBA, providing counseling through SCORE and our own staff, providing capital financing through our own bond and loan programs, operating a Main Street™ program for the downtowns in the county, providing technical expertise to our local communities, operating a large workforce development agency, working with our Parks & Recreation department to improve our trails and natural features, etc.

    I agree with Hink that I'd rather see the money that states and cities spend on incentives go directly into things like infrastructure improvements or workforce development programs.
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    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I think part also depends on the region. In the middle of Kansas those promised jobs can mean a lot to a community. 100 jobs we never had means 100+ people could be moving here or it could mean higher wages for the people that are here. When you're dealing with the KC metro it's a constant fight between Kansas and Missouri to see who can drag the company across the state line which is literally just a road. It does the community no good to pay a bunch of money to have a company move across the street, but the governor is proud of it. Sprint is a great example of this one a few years ago.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    The best economic development professionals work closely with, and in coordination with, the planners in their community. They constructively work to change unreasonable standards in city codes, but also defend the city to the businesses in town who just want to cut corners to save money,.

    The worst economic development professionals see themselves as advocates for businesses within the government organization, who primarily harass other departments to just sign off on projects that don't meet standards.

    Ideally planning & economic development are in one office, with one common department head. More often they are not.
    Don't read the comments section. You want to, but don't do it.

  8. #8
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    Wow, so many great responses! Can't wait to reply to them all! Thank you all so much!

    So much to learn!

    Quote Originally posted by Wannaplan? View post
    Iím not an economic developer, but Iíve seen the work of many who work on the local level. The good economic developers I know help educate public officials and provide a historical perspective on issues, are good grant writers, know how to promote their place/region, know how to successfully engage the public, and have their ear to the ground about trends and shifts in the business world as well as state and federal policies.
    This sounds like an excellent description of what I would love to do one day. But it seems so terribly broad-based! Like a historian, political scientist, public speaker, businessman, and public admin/policy person all in one! Is there even an ideal graduate program/university out that there can train people to do all of this?

    Seems like something that would take years to master.

    Quote Originally posted by WSU MUP Student View post
    I work in economic development in a large county. We don't offer incentives but the state can and we do occasionally work with employers to help work with the state to get those incentives but in reality those are pretty few and far between. While we were involved in our regional effort to lure Amazon here (we didn't make the cut to the final 20) much more of our time is spent working on economic development through other modes: facilitating small business loans through the SBA, providing counseling through SCORE and our own staff, providing capital financing through our own bond and loan programs, operating a Main Streetô program for the downtowns in the county, providing technical expertise to our local communities, operating a large workforce development agency, working with our Parks & Recreation department to improve our trails and natural features, etc.

    I agree with Hink that I'd rather see the money that states and cities spend on incentives go directly into things like infrastructure improvements or workforce development programs.
    Do economic development professionals ever get to play a big role in creating the plans for infrastructure improvement or maybe in informing public officials on ways to improve infrastructure?

    Workforce development programs sound interesting! What typically would that entail?

    I guess I am trying to get a feel for what exactly is the day-to-day in this career and how restricted or limited the range of activity for an Econ developer is.

    Quote Originally posted by dvdneal View post
    I think part also depends on the region. In the middle of Kansas those promised jobs can mean a lot to a community. 100 jobs we never had means 100+ people could be moving here or it could mean higher wages for the people that are here. When you're dealing with the KC metro it's a constant fight between Kansas and Missouri to see who can drag the company across the state line which is literally just a road. It does the community no good to pay a bunch of money to have a company move across the street, but the governor is proud of it. Sprint is a great example of this one a few years ago.
    I guess this strikes at the heart at what I am also confused about. Shouldn't economic development also be about growing and nourishing the local businesses already in the community, so that the community doesn't have to worry about bribing transnational companies with millions to drag them across state lines with empty hopes of potential beneficence in the long run?

    This is why the John Oliver segment was so disturbing to me. Surely having a Wal-mart on every street corner is a way to keep more and more people from being unemployed-- but it's also a way to guarantee that the community becomes ever dependent on Walmart-- both for consumption and production. And with the way Walmart treats their workers like minimum wage slaves, this can have terrible consequences for communities already experiencing the crunch.

    As an aside question: Do econ development professionals get the chance to do any work analyzing how things like basic income, the living wage or urban gardens that could also off-set poverty, unemployment and the socio-economic problems huge companies like Amazon and Walmart bring?

    Quote Originally posted by Masswich View post
    The best economic development professionals work closely with, and in coordination with, the planners in their community. They constructively work to change unreasonable standards in city codes, but also defend the city to the businesses in town who just want to cut corners to save money,.

    The worst economic development professionals see themselves as advocates for businesses within the government organization, who primarily harass other departments to just sign off on projects that don't meet standards.

    Ideally planning & economic development are in one office, with one common department head. More often they are not.
    You see, this is exactly what I envisioned would have to be the case! In fact, when I was researching the different roles in urban planning-- I was quite taken aback at how (or why) "planners" were considered a separate career profession from "Econ developers". It just makes no sense to me at all as there not only seems to be huge overlap between the two but they are utterly dependent on each other. "Urban planning" without any sense of an economic consideration of the wider community, and attempting to economically develop a community without any knowledge of zoning, government rules/regulations, and knowledge of how the community land is organized sounds completely crazy.

    Why have the two professions branched off in this way? I understand the need for specialization in certain positions as sometimes a task can take a lot more time and dedication away from doing another task thoroughly. But separating the planning profession from the Econ development profession is almost like separating reading from thinking, or chewing from swallowing. It can be done but serves no real tangible purpose other than for mere classification purposes.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    Sorry, I'm a planner so I can't answer all the ED questions. It all comes down to it depends. Here in Kansas our small town struggles with the idea of ED. We have a chamber that does a lot of it and they of course support the existing businesses and help grow small businesses along with some tourism stuff. We have an ED board that thinks it's working on getting new companies, but it's basically repeating the work the chamber already did. Studies on workforce is what dominates our area. I think most of our studies come from the state level. The state however is still busy sniping businesses from the Missouri side of KC. It's all about political wins and less about city growth. Politics can really screw stuff up sometimes.

    When I worked in the Phoenix area my city had a few ED people doing different things. One guy did big business attraction (not Walmart). One lady did technology startup help. One guy did small business assistance. I don't remember them doing a lot of studies, but I think they got most of their information from the Greater Phoenix Economic Council so they didn't have to. I'm sure the GPEC ED people did a lot of studies and things to bring people to the Phoenix metro. I'm not so sure how much they focused on things like parks. It was still more about workforce and amenities for workers. You know, this area has everything your company needs and your employees will be happy.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by fmill019 View post
    Wow, so many great responses! Can't wait to reply to them all! Thank you all so much!

    So much to learn!...

    Do economic development professionals ever get to play a big role in creating the plans for infrastructure improvement or maybe in informing public officials on ways to improve infrastructure?

    Workforce development programs sound interesting! What typically would that entail?

    I guess I am trying to get a feel for what exactly is the day-to-day in this career and how restricted or limited the range of activity for an Econ developer is.
    I think a lot of it will depend on the organization that you work for and how big their staff is. I work for a relatively large organization with a lot of resources so we have people on our economic development staff with expertise that allows us to inform our public officials on items like infrastructure improvement or the impact of those types of projects. I work with our workforce development a lot on helping them respond to local employers looking for wage studies to aid in their recruiting and conduct studies on completions and trend analysis to work with our local high schools and community college to help tailor their vocational class offerings to fields where there will be a need in a few years from now and not just what's needed today. Currently, I am assisting on a vocational-type career fair that we are hosting that will potentially have a few thousand students attending this fall (our duties include working with trade unions and employers to help plan their activities, attracting other sponsors, conducting outreach with the school districts, etc.)

    A lot of the individual cities here in our county don't have the staff resources to do this type of work on their own so we partner directly with them and I imagine that things are similar in other places across the country. Larger regions should have a good regional chamber of commerce that might handle these types of tasks or statewide economic development or workforce development agencies also might do this type of work.

    All that said, even here where our economic development office encompasses quite a bit, the bottom line is always jobs jobs jobs. Thankfully, being in a relatively prosperous region gives us the leeway to use some of our economic development staff resources on things that might be considered secondary (but those of us in the office don't think of these things as secondary at all).
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    What working in economic development means on a day to day basis (especially as an entry level employee) will really depend on where you work and in what sector.The Planning field in general, is incredibly broad and varies a ton depending on state, city, and sector (private, public, or nonprofit). But to answer your question about the video, that kind of work is really done at the state level or in Mayor's offices battling it out with major companies. What most ED professionals do is smaller scale stuff like research and writing reports, applying to or administrating grants and loans, small business and retail development, regulating Business Improvement Districts downtown, and general program development and consensus building around a particular industry (ex: Pittsburgh Technology Council). Other agencies may do more marketing and tourism type of work (ex: Iowa Economic Development Council). Other Economic Development agencies are more about infrastructure projects (ex: NYCEDC).

    Short answer: It really just depends. As an undergrad, you'll probably have to go to graduate school for planning anyway, so I wouldn't fret too much about choosing a niche within planning just yet

    Good luck! Enjoy your time as a student. In addition to the broad based policy stuff, pick up some tangible skills in coding, design, finance, economics, technical writing, or literally anything technical along with planning classes

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    The video is mostly talking about tax incentives, which is a political thing. That's something politicians do. I think you need to not get that confused with what planners and ED people do.

    Also, keep in mind that not all planning or economic development is government based. There are jobs in the private sector that do such things, such as Main Street America programs:

    https://www.mainstreet.org/home

    http://www.dahp.wa.gov/sites/default...ssful%20DT.pdf

    Main Street organizations are non profit organizations that do economic development. Most Main Street organizations are 501(c)3 non profits. Some are 501(c)6 organizations. That's covered in the above PDF, but you can also read a bit about the difference between the two designations here:

    https://www.raffa.com/newsandresourc...-examined.aspx

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