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Leveraging Experience: Supporting Your Economic Development Team for Community Prosperity

Wednesday, September 20, 2023 4:58 PM | Jill Ewing (Administrator)

Devin Hillson-Smith
Director, Integrated Site Selection – Industrial
Cushman & Wakefield

Having spent a decade as an economic developer before transitioning into the role of a national site selection consultant, I have had the privilege of experiencing the dynamic world of economic growth from both sides of the table. It’s important for community leaders to recognize and empower their economic development team – they are a crucial force that holds the key to a community's prosperity.

Economic development professionals are not just administrators; they are skilled navigators in the complex waters of commerce, capable of steering a community towards greater economic prosperity. Their insights are deep-rooted in the understanding of their community's strengths, challenges, and aspirations. Their expertise goes beyond numbers and spreadsheets; they possess an innate sense of the pulse of the region, enabling them to strategically position it for success.

As a site selector now responsible for guiding corporate clients through competitive location searches, I seek out communities where local leaders and economic developers have formed a collaborative bond. Remember this: when a company is looking to construct and open a new factory or office, there can be hundreds of millions of dollars in investment on the line. Most of my clients prioritize locations with supportive business environments and leadership that inspires trust with the long-term success of their investment. In short, corporate attraction is an exercise in risk reduction.

Site selection and corporate attraction is, at its core, the art of matching a business with the ideal location. This process requires a delicate balance of understanding business needs and community values. An economic development team is skilled in this craft, meticulously weaving a tapestry of opportunities that benefits both new/existing businesses and the community. By giving these professionals the resources and support they need, local leadership is empowering these highly specialized professionals to create an environment for economic growth that aligns with their community's vision.

However, economic developers often face obstacles that can impede their progress. Limited resources, limited support, and bureaucratic hurdles can stifle their ability to attract and retain investment. This is where strong local leadership can make all the difference. By allocating the necessary resources, creating available and ready sites, and showing unwavering support, they enable the economic development team to flourish and create lasting, positive change. And, yes, it’s immediately apparent to us site selectors which communities prioritize economic development, no matter how smooth the talk is.

Having the dedication, vision, and commitment to strong economic development will shape a legacy of sustained economic vitality for generations to come. Stand by your economic development team, and, together, you can forge a brighter and more prosperous future for your community. I look forward to working with you in the future!

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Cushman & Wakefield.

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