A Career in Economic Development is One Way to Positively Impact Your Community – an MPA Student explores a career path in economic development

Creative EDC Intern Rylee Govoreau explores economic development with three professionals at different stages in their careers. Pass this along to a young person you know who may be interested in a career in economic development. As with every other industry, economic development is facing the silver tsunami. We should all be proactive in recruiting bright young people to our field. ~ Rylee Govoreau will complete her MPA from Appalachian State University in May 2021.    

In the midst of the big reset, there is a unique opportunity to explore the economic development profession, examine the skills that are essential for success as an economic developer, and recruit young, bright leaders to the field. This exploration provides a chance for people considering careers in economic development to view the flexible, exciting, fast-paced, and ever-evolving nature of the profession. This blog is not about looking backwards, but looking forward to the next generation of economic developers, and to offer advice from current economic development professionals of varying experience levels on why economic development is an excellent career path worth considering.  

As a young person, particularly a young woman, beginning to think about my next journey post-Grad school, networking and connecting with a variety of professionals in the field can be invaluable. I had the pleasure of virtually connecting with Alyssa Byrd, President of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation (NC), Lydeana Martin, Community and Economic Development Director for Floyd County (VA), and Tavia Gaddy, Project Manager for Greenville Area Development Corporation (SC). I asked them questions that I and similar about-to-be graduates want to know about whether economic development is a profession worth considering.  

Q: What skills have you noticed are essential for success in the economic development profession? 

A: Tavia Gaddy, Project Manager for Greenville Area Development Corporation has important insight into skills that are essential for success in economic development and skills that have contributed to her personal success. She speaks to the importance of the ability to be flexible. “One of the best things that I love about what we do is that I never know what my day is going to be like. So I say stay flexible because plans can be interrupted.” Gaddy also offers “Patience is key. Don’t take yourself too seriously-not taking yourself too seriously keeps you grounded, and you need to stay grounded.” 

Q: What advice would you have for someone, particularly for young women, who are new to the profession? 

A: Alyssa Byrd, President of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation graduated and entered the field a little less than a decade ago and offers fresh, current advice for other young women who are considering entering the profession. Byrd offers, “Learn what the imposter syndrome is and how to recognize it and catch it in yourself. I think it is likely very common for women, especially in fields dominated by men, to feel that imposter syndrome, so being able to catch that and course correct yourself is essential.” Gaddy also adds, “I need you to be open when you come into this profession. I need you to be strong, I need you to be grounded, I need you to stand up for yourself. Stay true to yourself. Our greatest gift as female economic developers that we not only hear, but we listen.” Lydeana’ Martin’s advice echoes that from Gaddy and Byrd, but she adds “Get any experience you can early on. Internships, job shadowing, anything that gets you face to face with people doing the work so that you can see what it’s like. Networking is everything.” 

Q: Which has been more valuable in your career, your education or your experience? 

A: Lydeana Martin once occupied a dual role as both the county planner and economic developer for Floyd County, VA. Recently, a new planning position has been created allowing Lydeana to focus on the role of economic development. When asked which has been more valuable, her education of experience, Martin answered, “They really build together. The experience is important because that’s how you get the job, but education informs your experience. Any way that you can get your foot in the door, even early on in college, is super valuable.” 

Q: What do you love most about your job? What is your least favorite aspect of the job? 

A: Alyssa answers, “I love the community impact. I love meeting people from across the state.  North Carolina is such a diverse place with the mountains, the coast, and the piedmont, and there are different approaches that each of them take. It’s interesting to see those strategies and tactics. You meet a lot of really good people.” However, with meeting new people comes traveling, and Byrd regards traveling as one of her most and least favorite aspects of the job. “It’s amazing how much stuff will pile up when you’re out of the office. I love meeting new people and traveling to new places, but the process of getting there and living out of a hotel room is not my cup of tea.” Gaddy echoes most of these and adds, “I like the fact that my day is not always predictable. I don’t like down time or when it’s slow; I love unpredictability. It excites me.” For her least favorite aspect, Gaddy says “I’ve had some interesting prospects, and I don’t like when people don’t respect time.” 

Q: How would you describe the culture of the economic development profession? 

A: In describing the culture of the economic development profession, Tavia advises “It’s starting to become more diverse, but we’ve still got a long way to go. There was a time nobody knew what economic development is, and now everyone wants to know what’s next and who is coming.” Byrd adds, “It’s changed a lot since even 2011; The people who are in the field are people who care about their community and want to see it thrive through the growth and success of not just businesses, but also people in the community. Winning jobs is not the culture of success in economic development anymore-it is interwoven with the health of your community, equity within your community, access to education, and more. That’s the culture that you see-people who care about all aspects of your community thriving, not just its businesses.” 

Q: Considering all the people you’ve met in your field, what personal attributes are essential to success? 

A: Martin offers, “Confidence is incredibly important; you have to be confident talking to a wide range of people. Trying to keep up to date on resources, whether that is paid conferences if you can afford it or free programs or webinars offered by agencies and state programs. Writing, researching, and convincing people through stories are all also important.” Alyssa responded by saying “no one teaches you how to manage projects, so being able to have people skills and stay organized and on top of who people are, where they are working, and what they are working on is important. Patience is also key-a lot of economic development is a long-game, so having the patience to see things through is a necessary skill.” 

Takeaways 

From these interviews and my work as an intern for Creative Economic Development Consulting, I have gained insightful and indispensable advice regarding the skills young people, particularly young women, should be honing, the culture of the economic development profession, and what economic developers love about their jobs. It is clear that to be successful in the profession you must be confident, comfortable meeting and talking with people, patient, and flexible. It is also apparent that the strong, compassionate culture of the profession is magnified by individuals who want the best for the communities they serve. The more I learn about economic development, the more I find myself intrigued by the dynamic, multi-faceted nature of the profession. I have always felt a passionate commitment to public service, and working in economic development seems like a career well-suited for people who care about their community and want to see it thrive and grow.  

I continue to hear that the best way to make a positive difference is to engage in work that directly impact communities, and being a part of decisions that can enhance the quality of life for citizens in a community is why I, and many others, decided to pursue an MPA degree. Other MPA students would find the public service nature, fast-paced environment, and evolving culture of economic development to be particularly appealing. Being proactive in recruiting bright young people and showcasing the aspects that make economic development an excellent career path worth considering will propel the profession ahead.  

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