“We must open the doors of opportunity. But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors.”
– Lyndon B. Johnson
I am attending the annual gathering of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), the largest association of economic development professionals in the world. The theme of this year’s conference is Inclusive Economic Development: Fulfilling Dreams. We will focus on the policy and technical components of creating economic opportunity for all. While it was appropriate when the conference defined the theme a few years ago, it is even more appropriate now. We are meeting in Atlanta, a city known for being progressive, yet still struggling with the disparities so common in most U.S. cities and places around the world. These leaders from around the world will join us here to speak about how each is rising to the challenge.
As I attend meetings, gather with colleagues and discuss our common work, I am inspired. Economic development at its core is about increasing the quality of life through economic opportunity. But never before has there been so much connectivity between economic development organizations and workforce, housing, transportation and social services providers. I can say that while we have a lot of work to do, the economic development leaders are diverse, passionate and innovative. Collaboration is a given. In parallel, economic developers are working hard to keep pace with the rapid changes in our global business world as well. As we all know, change does not come easily or without a price, and most professionals I speak with are becoming responsible for more and more in the face of these changes.
Finally, while there is talk of trade and tariffs, opportunity zones and technology disruption, the topic to focus on above all is how we can do better to create more real opportunity for everyone. This is our greatest economic challenge. Let us take comfort that there are thousands of leaders across the country that wake up each morning and go to sleep each night thinking about and acting upon this challenge. Our leaders are as diverse as the populations they serve, and through national networks like IEDC, they are becoming even more equipped to remove obstacles and fulfill the dreams of our communities, our neighborhoods, our cities – and the great people within them.