“One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.”
I wrote a lot about change this year, if only to try and deal with it myself. To say the least, change was a popular 2017 theme in business, politics, science and social dynamics. The economic development profession touches all of these areas of the community, and we aren’t immune to the changes and the debate about the future. Changes have caused us to respond, think differently and listen more than ever. It has been challenging and it is making us better.
First, the economy is doing well from most traditional perspectives. Companies have solid balance sheets, stocks of public companies have surged and unemployment is low all over the country. Black Friday was up over 16 percent this year, an indicator that confidence and spending are certainly adequate to build communities. Companies can finance and capitalize projects, downtowns are redeveloped or in the process of being revitalized, and the United States is both growing and in a good position to compete for the future.
Second, the economic development profession is undergoing great change, just like every other. Technology is accelerating our ability to serve companies and stakeholders, and it has raised expectations. Companies are asking communities to help them succeed as co-partners in growth. Whether it is smart city efforts or the unquenchable thirst for talent, communities can make a difference in the performance of small businesses and corporate giants. Competitors, which are increasingly international, are buying companies and reshaping industries seemingly overnight. We must be swift to act and in a state of constant preparation, even if our communities are doing well.
Third, the last twelve months have surfaced real anxiety about the economy. American families, and many around the world, are wary of their future and don’t always see their status rising along with the markets or developments in their own cities. This wariness is not unfounded. Minority populations have largely struggled to benefit from a rising economy. The data clearly show that not only have economic outcomes stagnated, but health indicators such as infant mortality and life expectancy have gone in the wrong direction for disadvantaged groups. Our profession must continue to become as diverse as those we serve, so these perspectives are front and center moving forward.
I suspect 2018 will bring even more change and that economic developers will be challenged like never before. I also know that there are thousands of great people across the United States who work very hard to meet each of these challenges. I have great faith that that we are up to the task!
This edition of Economic Development Matters is the last of 2017.