Practicing Economic Development in a New Era

Article excerpt

In 2009, Dr. Ed Blakely, professor of Urban Policy in the United States Study Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Dr. Nancey Green Leigh, professor of City and Regional Planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology, released the fourth edition of Planning Local Economic Development: Theory and Practice. This new edition explores how climate change and goals of sustainability influence the practice of local economic development. Todd Greene, Vice President for Community and Economic Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, interviewed the authors about some of the challenges and opportunities facing economic developers in changing times.

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TODD GREENE: Planning Local Economic Development: Theory and Practice is now in its fourth edition. How does this edition build on and add to the previous ones?

DR. BLAKELY: Each edition has focused on something slightly different. The first edition (1989) was focused on local development, i.e., what do you have in your local community that you can [use to] make a difference? The second edition (1994) focused on the places where technology was emerging. The third edition (2002) had a greater focus on globalization. And this fourth edition is more on sustainability, and we're wrapping in the other three terms. So, the sequence becomes, "What do you have locally that you can produce?"; then "How is your community changing to adapt to the global circumstances?"; and then, "Are you connected globally, and how can you sustain this connection over time while maintaining an environmentally rich community?"

GREENE: How have practical strategies in economic development changed? What trends and best practices have you observed?

DR. LEIGH: It is well documented that the work of economic developers has largely been marketing and providing incentives to attract new business. But there is growing appreciation of the need to retain existing business, to support the development of new local businesses (sometimes called "economic gardening"), and to pursue job-centered economic development. Of course, the emerging green economy is providing exciting new opportunities upon which the most successful communities will figure out how to capitalize. This can range from being the producers of new energy-saving technology and products (wind turbines, solar panels, or green-building products are most familiar), to fostering urban agriculture and waste-to-profit networks.

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GREENE: Economic development projects frequently run into conflict with communities. How can economic developers better respond to communities, especially low- and moderate-income communities?

DR. BLAKELY: Sometimes, economic development activity comes as a surprise to the community, and that shouldn't happen. There should be consistent education, training, and development of people in the community about economic development options. Community developers should work with residents to say, "Here are the options we have in our community, and here's some of the language of economic development." Local communities should have a list of needs and wants. Most of the time, their requests are very modest: they want a street light fixed, or they want their bus stop redone, or they would like some job training for people in the community.

DR. LEIGH: Community development also focuses on issues that affect overall participation and functioning in the economy--critical issues such as child and health care, housing, education and essential public services. In the fourth edition of Planning Local Economic Development, we include a discussion on the practice of community economic development that focuses on the neighborhood scale, seeking to improve conditions within a geographic area that is populated by the disadvantaged who are unable to control their socioeconomic direction or resources. …