4 Steps to becoming an Economic Developer

A bit about me……A lot of people, especially young women, ask me how I got into international economic development. I didn’t take the conventional path. I majored on philosophy in my undergrad, and did my Master’s in Media Studies. Importantly however, while I studied I volunteered on community and economic development committees in my city.

My interest in philosophers like Socrates, Hume, Locke, and Rousseau undoubtedly shaped my interest in politics and governance. But, at the time, I had no idea what economic development was, or that I was going to end up shaping local economies in different parts of the world.

I learned 4 big things along my path to becoming an award-winning economic developer on the international scene. I’d love to share them with you now. I regularly share insights on how to work in community economic development in my free updates.

First big thing?  Economic development is a verb!

It’s a no-brainer: you’ll learn it best by getting experience doing it!  Go volunteer at your local Chamber, or Rotary; any community group that contributes to the economic vitality of your community. Don’t wait for the perfect job to give you the perfect experience.

I learned about business from joining my local Chamber of Commerce. I realised how to analyze public policy on economic development.  I remember my first meeting: I was the only woman in the room, and the only person under 45.  At first I was dismissed. And I get it, I was only 22. What did I know about the future of Canada’s federal packaging policy?  (See?  You wouldn’t know the Chamber of Commerce drafted policy on this stuff unless you worked there!) Anyway, in time I found my voice on that committee, and gained useful knowledge on local, provincial, national, and international economic policy frameworks.

Working here helped me figure out the 10 things to know about economic development. Download this free guide.

Second, pay attention to what’s going on.

Stop and look at what’s happening in your community. It’s a microcosm of what’s happening around the world. The dynamics of economy are going on all around you, wherever you are. And it’s always exciting!

In my final year of university, Richard Florida’s ‘Creative Cities’ theory gained fame; not just in economic and political circles, but also in popular culture. The guy was interviewed on the Daily Show!  Imagine. An economic theorist capturing the imagination of artists, municipal leaders, and politicians? I was hooked. Studying in London, Ontario at the time, my Master’s became a study of this ‘creative city’ and how we communicate economic development.

Sign up by Jan 2015 to be the first to receive a free abridged version of “Re-imagining the City”, my Master’s Thesis as an ebook. 

Third, break the rules.

Government and Economic development agencies have a reputation of being set in their ways. Don’t let it deter you! Focus on what is possible. And continue to pursue new ways of realising your goal. You may have to quietly achieve what it is you want to do, and then put it into action to show that it works.

People often tell me “you can’t do that” and I think; “aha, I feel a negotiation coming on!”  I became known for having an original perspective and designing outside the box. I credit that to philosophy. But I also learned diplomacy and tact. If you wish to deliver a new approach from within traditional bureaucratic process, you’re gonna need it, in spades!

Four, follow your passion not your pension.

If you feel stuck in an agency job that has lost its spark, get out! I had spent 10 years working in bureaucracy. I’d won a few awards, including the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Marketing Excellence for my place branding campaigns. This got me invited to speak at conferences and AGMs.  And there I found a whole new energy and inspiration.

I realized my true passion the day I hosted a workshop on Canadian best practices on local economic development with a delegation from Ukraine. I loved it. I returned from that workshop with a desire to work with struggling communities to design the programs and build the capacity required to build strong cities.

It took a leap of faith. I had to leave the security of my full-time job.  But I learned a most valuable thing: money follows motivation.  When you commit to a career driven by your passion, the work you should be doing, as well as the partners you need to do it with, will find you.


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