Branding Local Economic Development – A Practitioner’s Perspective
When your role is to do a variety of things for a variety of people, how do you explain it all in one statement?
At a CALED Orange County Chapter Meeting, local economic developers tackled this very question. Bill Davis, CALED’s former Vice President in Charge of Facilitation and Training, led the meeting that was organized by the Orange County Chapter of CALED and headed by the planning team of Bart Hoffman (formerly City of Anaheim), Janet Coe (formerly City of Lake Forest), Mechelle Lawrence (fomerly City of San Juan Capistrano), Caitlin Lifflefield (formerly City of Anaheim), and Debi Hausdorder (formerly Orange County Business Council). Twenty area Economic Development leaders participated in the challenge to define the characteristics of Economic Development that distinguish it from other professions.
Bart Hoffman, former Economic Development Manager for the City of Anaheim and former Chair of the Orange County Chapter of CALED, opened the meeting by pointing out that the need to design an “elevator Speech” for economic development is not a new necessity. For decades, ED professionals have struggled to explain what it is they do to friends, family, and other professionals. As Bart noted, “Economic Development is questioned because it is not easily defined or understood. ED professionals need a statement that not only explains what they do, but is easy enough to understand so that people outside the profession can grasp the concept without difficulty ” Those familiar with Economic Development know that this is no easy task.
When asked how they currently described their profession to others, some “describe their profession by the tasks they perform.” Mechelle Lawrence, former Economic Development Manager for the City of San Juan Capistrano, commented that “Economic Development is what the community says it is.” Jim Lamb, former Project Manager for the City of Huntington Beach, said he, “works to make sure his business residents are healthy and happy.”
Everybody agreed with Janet Coe, former Economic Development Manager for the City of Lake Forest and former CALED Board Member that “What sets economic development professionals apart from other professionals in public service is that their sole focus is the health and well-being of businesses. For example, while other public sector employees provide services to businesses, those services are part of performing other primary responsibilities.”
What sets them apart from private sector business is that Economic Developers are primarily interested in generating public goods, revenues, and jobs; whereas, the private sector is driven simply by profit.
Led by Davis, the group had an interesting and lively discussion. The participants decided that economic developers are catalysts. They are politically astute, strategists who build relationships with the goal of increasing economic viability in their communities. The meeting ended with a new objective: to turn these key points into a statement that brands our profession for a wider constituency. The group intends to develop a consistent brand identity that is applicable to economic developers performing a wide variety of programs in all types of communities.
As these comments suggest, the many components and different views of economic development only show the magnitude of the challenge CALED’s Orange County Chapter had taken on. One thing is clear: the need for this statement is pressing, and we applaud their efforts in leading the way in branding economic development.
Qualities of Economic Developers:
- Community strategist
- Build community relationships toward economic vitality
- Customer-driven problem solver
- Creative in facilitating economic growth
- Politically astute
- Have comprehensive knowledge of factors affecting business and