Column: Government influences development

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 19, 2002

The excitement and enthusiasm on economic development leading up to the recent primary election has been invigorating. It feels good to know business initiatives are at the forefront of discussions and individuals are eager to get involved in its process. In fact, as individuals and organizations make decisions on investing in Greater Jobs, Inc., the timing for active involvement is now.

Economic development in the United States is very important to both large and small communities. To start, many argue that economic development is essential for sustaining the competitiveness of the United States economy and raising overall productivity and incomes. Secondly, additional development can help maintain a high level of employment and job quality. It creates jobs necessary for providing opportunities for the jobless and working poor and it can provide earnings needed to make further investments in education, government services, amenities, infrastructure and quality of life.

During the last three decades, the field of economic development has changed significantly. Today you will find this field filled with journals, theories and trade associations. Once what was considered an ad hoc art and practice now is being taught at universities.

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The mistake typically made by individuals about the practice of economic development is that it is simply a hands-on profession. The economic developer does prepare and promote sites, community visits, existing industries, runs a revolving loan fund and so forth. However, this is only the external face of economic development. The outcomes of business recruitment and expansion can be based on tax and regulatory policies formed by the federal and state governments. These policies affect competition for companies by communities in terms of infrastructure, workforce training grants, taxes and regulatory issues, among other things. In other words, the government has a big impact on the business climate, for it is that combination of services provided by the public sector which creates the context for which company representatives desire to live and work.

Once economic development was synonymous with business recruitment efforts; now it has broadened its boundaries. Today’s economic development involves initiatives ranging from improving amenities, such as lakefronts to educational systems, while continuing to retain local business and fostering ownership of business enterprises as found in our new Albert Lea Business Development Center.

When a recent trade association surveyed economic developers, they were in general agreement that the ability to forge political consensus within a community will be critical to successful economic development efforts; and because of the scale of investments needed and the speed of economic change, the new economy places a premium on collaboration, such as our Workforce Recruitment Initiative. No one organization or community can afford to go it alone.

As we look to the November general election and make choices on who will serve our community, let’s keep in mind the definitions of economic development, the partnerships that are essential to successful outcomes and the fundamental resources needed to build up our location and promote our assets and opportunities to prospective businesses.

Pam Bishop is Executive Vice President of Greater Jobs, Inc., an organization dedicated to economic development.