August 2, 2022

“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

According to NPR’s Planet Money, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first leader in the world to refer to “the economy” as a concept. Before that time, no one had sought to measure the aggregate activity of what our nation produced and exported around the world. The drivers of the ups and downs in the jobs and financial markets remained a mystery to nearly everyone. We take for granted the many measures now in place to inform us on employment, spending, and the confidence level of decision makers and consumers. None of these measures are perfect, but they do help both government and business leaders understand our economic environment and make better decisions.

We now speak of “the economy” daily and seem to obsess with various measures of it. In today’s world, it’s hard to tell if we are doing well (low unemployment) or struggling (sluggish GDP and high inflation). For most Americans, it comes down to how they are doing personally. Do you have a job that supports your family, how many potholes do you have on your street, and how much confidence do you have in those leading your city, state, and country? These days, this can vary widely depending on where you get your news or what industry you may work within. Both our measures and our discussions with neighbors are important to determine if we are making progress or moving backward. I encourage spending time understanding both.

This made me think of two of the many responsibilities of economic developers.

First, to make sure you are talking about what the term economic development really means. There are varying definitions of economic development, but this is how the U.S. Economic Development Administration defines it—economic development is the expansion of capacities that contribute to the advancement of society through the realization of individual, firm, and community potential. Economic development is measured by a sustained increase in prosperity and quality of life through innovation, lowered transaction costs, and the utilization of capabilities towards the responsible production and diffusion of goods and services. Economic development requires effective institutions grounded in norms and openness, tolerance for risk, appreciation for diversity and confidence in the realization of mutual gain for the public and private sector. Economic development is essential to creating the conditions for economic growth and ensuring our economic future. 

Second, we must continue talking about all aspects of this definition, not just economic growth. It is a disservice to the hard and necessary work of those that are working on economic policy, capital access for entrepreneurs and small businesses, developing tomorrow’s workforce, and building the modern infrastructure necessary to increase the standard of living and facilitate physical development equitably and effectively.

I ask that you take time this week to look at this definition and to discuss how you can address the comprehensive definition of “economic development” and examine “the economy” as you communicate your results and pursue your mission to improve your community. Let’s lift each other up this week, take time to listen, and keep moving forward.

-Kenny McDonald