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Economic Development Is a Multi-Faceted Profession

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Last month I talked about ‘the Four P’s of the IEDA:’ Promote the Profession, Propel the Professional.’ In October, the Indiana Economic Development Association, IEDA, held the first Indiana Economic Development Director’s Course. The course was intended to be a concentrated overview of Indiana-specific information about leading an economic development organization, best practices, tools, and the qualities of an effective economic development professional.

The lead-off session was led by Thayr Richey, CEO of Bloomington-based Strategic Development Group and Jim Plump, head of the Jackson County Industrial Development Corporation. Both are experienced economic development leaders in the state. Early in their presentation, they talked about the ‘roles of the economic development director in a community and they highlighted qualities such as ‘Analyst,’ ‘Catalyst,’ ‘Advocate,’ ‘Facilitator,’ and ‘Visionary.’

When I looked at that list of qualities, I thought about a visit earlier in the month withDave Koenig, leader of the Steuben County Economic Development Corporation. Dave and I talked about his path to the economic development corporation and what he saw as critical skills for the job.

The centerpiece of our discussion was the latest project of the development corporation, the Northern Indiana Lakes County Enterprise Center. The Center itself serves as a good example of how many of the qualities outlined by Richey and Plump are being put into practice in Steuben County.

The Enterprise Center is a complex of buildings that will serve a variety of uses and local entities. Highlighting the ‘facilitator’ role, Dave shared that the Enterprise Center brings together the local chamber, the tourism bureau, Trine University, Ivy Tech Community College, WorkOne, Elevate Ventures, and the small business development center.

The Enterprise Center will house a variety of related organizations, including the EDC, and is designed to stimulate emerging and start-up businesses, bringing together expertise and support services, as well as networking opportunities to provide an enhanced opportunity for young businesses to grow. Steuben County has had a long history of tool and die, engineering, and light assembly companies that support larger manufacturing facilities along the I-69 corridor, but Koenig sees the Enterprise Center as a potential catalyst for purposefully growing and retaining the next generation of these businesses.

Koenig noted that the development of the Enterprise Center is an example of how economic development directors are engaged in a 5 – 10 year process to create an ‘overnight success’ for their communities.

We talked about how his previous role as executive director of a regional planning council helped to hone his analytical skills, giving him a sense of being able to look at business trends and needs in Steuben County and the larger region, and see a unique opportunity to leverage education, workforce, and industry assets into an incubator space that will serve the community for years to come.

Lee Lewellen, CEO
Indiana Economic Development Association
IEDA Foundation