From the Good Thinking File: Are Deal Incentives Killing the Economic Development Profession?

Readers of the Wise Economy Workshop may recall some mutual interviews and content-sharing between me and Ed Burghard of the Strengthening Brand America platform.  I’ve admired and appreciated Ed’s marketing and communication mastery and his determination through his American Dream efforts to get economic development practitioners out of the dead end of thinking that recruiting businesses and counting jobs are good enough work to say that you’re benefitting your community sufficiently to earn your salary.  As Ed articulates so well in pushing the American Dream Index as a better measure of whether economic development efforts are actually working, the goal isn’t simply to get more.  It’s to build a community’s economic health.  And if you look at the American Dream Index, it’s clear that on those measures, a lot of us have a whole lot of room for improvement.


Ed has been particularly concerned about the impacts of mega-deals, like the Nevada Tesla incentive cornucopia — and he’s pinned down something that I tried to say in the book: the incentives arms race threatens to render the economic development profession (and economic development professionals) irrelevant. 


You need to read what Ed wrote, especially if you work in economic development, but also if you do planning or administration or whatever  – or if you just give a damn about the future of your community.  Incentives use, proper use and misuse impact every other part of what we do… as well as our credibility with and relevance to

note the blue ahead. From

the public.


A lot of economic development practitioners are talking about how to reboot the profession.  But we’re running out of runway for talking.  We have to refocus this work on the factors that make communities work, that make them economically healthy and resilient.  That will require not only new tactics, but new core skills, a more nuanced understanding of how communities and regions actually function economically, an openness to experimenting and incremental change and a long-term worldview.


Perhaps most of all, that will require all of us who work for and care about communities to take a stand, to get to work undoing the shoot-what-flies, build-it-and-they-will-come, we’ve-got-money-to-burn false assumptions that we taught those elected officials that Ed complains about.  Yes, politicians have a self-interest in easy answers and claiming easy victories.


But we let them think that’s OK.  And we’re the professionals.

Time for us to step up to the plate.  Thanks for the reminder, Ed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s