Thursday, May 26, 2016

Economic Developers as Public Servants

"Good economic development is the greatest public service you can do." - Dell Gines

After attending the Growing Entrepreneurial Communities Summit on May 4-5, this quote has been one continues to rattle around in my head. Perhaps rattle is not the correct verb, as after that Summit, my mind was full of great thoughts and inspiration. No, this quote has taken root in my mind, and in my heart, and is growing into scripture. 

The best economic development directors, those I truly admire and have tried to emulate, are at their core, public servants. Their work goes beyond those tasks that match their job descriptions and occur during office hours. Their service to the community - their job - is seen in the extra hours they take driving the countryside trying to find a vacant shop for a business to expand, using their vast network to find the new teacher or mechanic a home that best fits their needs in a timely manner, or their consistent, undying support of shopping local with nearly every penny they earn. They have a mission to see their community survive, as its mere survival is more than just the guarantee of a job, its the guarantee of a lifestyle. They practice what they preach. They appreciate the quirks and antics of the various organizations and characters they get to work with. They know that their drive and passion for building a community gets them that much closer to having a community they want to continue to live in forever.

Let me pause a second to say, that this may or may not apply to successful urban economic developers, but I know without a doubt that is fact about successful rural economic developers. 

These dedicated economic development directors wear many hats in both their professional and personal lives. But each of these hats is made from the fabric of sustainable community work. They work their tails off, fight the naysayers, legislators, and population projections. They often drag their spouse or significant others into the work they're doing, asking them to fix the door or serve the soup at various community events. Their dedication to community goes beyond the office hours, beyond the job they're paid to do, and creates community and inspires others to do the same.

Cheers to the inspiring economic development directors that I get to work with in western Kansas, especially. I hope you know I notice the extra work you're doing and the late hours, the projects that don't quite fit in your job description, but lead to a better quality of life. You inspire me with your commitment to public service.