Annual IEDC Conference Advances Inclusion in Economic Development

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

This year’s annual conference of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), held in Atlanta, Georgia from September 29 to October 3, turned out to be the largest ever.  Over 1,600 economic developers and related service providers gathered to explore the theme of “Inclusion in Economic Development.”  In addition to the basics of economic development, business retention, expansion, and attraction, many of the areas discussed focused on issues of inclusion, diversity, prosperity for all, housing, workforce, early learning, the opioid crisis, and other areas in which our community and EDASC in particular are closely involved.  The conference provides an excellent opportunity to learn from colleagues in sessions and in conversation about programs and ideas that have worked well in their communities.

Some highlights:

  • "Riding the Silver Tsunami: Creating Opportunities for Seniors and Retirees" featured a speaker from New Mexico, which has a higher average resident age, described programs assisting with business succession similar to what EDASC does, because of the huge risk to the community’s economy from sole proprietors and business owners without – or needing help with - transition plans. In addition to real estate and tourism-related concerns, Gallup, NM focuses on a SoloWorks Center, which is a community supported program and platform to create, advance and retain new economic base jobs, including home-based workers and solopreneurs.  In addition, Dr. Mitchell Byrne of the University of Wollongong (Australia) talked about the Wellbeing Precinct on the University Innovation Campus, a $700 million, 2000 job project whose aim is to reduce health care costs by promoting wellness (living well longer).
  • On the other end of the age spectrum, it was affirming to participate in a session on “Early Pipeline for Economic Development Success: Children and Youth.”  Rob Grunewald, economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and a pre-eminent researcher on the topic, presented his findings and others from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child (Perry Preschool Study) and from Ypsilanti, Michigan.  This research also underscores the arguments for early learning based on lower crime rates, higher graduation and earnings rates, less need for special education interventions, and less public assistance required.  Other speakers focused on how to engage business leaders and philanthropists.  In terms of workforce development, the benefits from early learning directly lead to better prepared workers. Shockingly, according to the WI Department of Workforce Development, fully 75% of American youth are unqualified to serve in the U.S. military!
  • Speakers in a special session on the opioid crisis urged economic developers to help connect with employers who will assist those in recovery with a pathway to work and financial stability through treatment, housing, and jobs.  They noted the need for local and state officials, law enforcement, school systems, and treatment providers in particular to start with the very young and focus particularly on women of childbearing age with prevention education and awareness.  It was also noted that this is not exclusively a young person’s problem – experts present had all dealt with seniors facing addiction issues.
  • Many sessions dealt with business retention and expansion, growing local “sticky” jobs, and supporting rural entrepreneurs.  Participants connected with agencies and localities that have combined to provide effective programs and resources to support new and existing businesses of every size.  Most frequently, economic development organizations perform the most vital work by connecting businesses and communities with the services or support or partners they need.
  • As recognition of the conference theme of “Inclusive Economic Development,” IEDC presented awards to the Cities of Minneapolis, MN and Saginaw, MI, for programs incorporating social services in economic development to reduce unemployment and crime by recruiting new employers to hire clients who have experienced chronic unemployment and/or incarceration.  In addition, some cities and the Brookings Institute discussed methods of measuring progress in inclusion, upward mobility, and resilience to financial setbacks, which are very long-term projects. Shorter term measures could relate to convening service agencies, philanthropic organizations, and business and government leaders to work at breaking down barriers.
  • Also relevant to the conference theme, EDASC CEO John Sternlicht was invited to present on “Economic Development and the LGBT Community.”  With colleagues from Louisville, KY, Durham, NC, and Cleveland, OH, the presentations highlighted not only the efforts communities make to be inclusive and welcoming, but also the difficulties that result from conservative and hostile state governments’ efforts to exclude that end up backfiring and causing huge fiscal losses to the state.  Sternlicht's presentation highlighted more contextually the significance of the LGBTQ community and perhaps more importantly, Allies, to the corporate, municipal, and political spheres.  His presentation can be found here and a video of the presentation is available here.

As always, IEDC’s Annual Conference provided many opportunities to learn about successful programs and efforts in areas important to EDASC and Skagit County, as well as to make connections with people who can assist in these efforts.

Category: Economic Development, Capacity Building