A career in economic development is something you never knew you wanted, but once you have it, you’ll never want anything else. Practicing economic development as a public manager has the potential to create many opportunities to become a subject matter expert in multiple fields. It combines the management skills that one learns through business administration/development or public administration programs, with technical skills like planning, engineering, project management, airport development, real estate, marketing and more.
What exactly is “economic development” though, and how does it translate into a career? Economic development is essentially a program or group of policies that seek to enhance the well-being and quality of life for a community by creating and retaining jobs that enable growth and create a solid tax base for essential services. As an economic development practitioner for a government entity, it is your job to create an attractive and thriving business climate that attracts, retains and grows business that contribute to a diverse and resilient economy. Almost every city and town has a department that is dedicated to economic development in one fashion or another. In recent years, the importance of economic development has been highlighted on all levels, be it national, state, or local. But, how does one even get into economic development?
The truth is, there currently really are no formal educational tracks at traditional colleges that are dedicated to directly teaching the range of skills that an economic developer needs. Becoming exposed to economic development as a career option in undergraduate and graduate school really depends on the program you are in, and even then, the chances are small you might become aware of economic development in business schools through business development programs or through public administration and policy programs. In Arizona, we are looking to correct this. Even now, the University of Arizona has undergraduate and graduate courses focusing on economic and regional development.
There are, however, other ways to become educated about economic development. Statewide economic development organizations like the Arizona Association for Economic Development (AAED), as well as the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), offer these opportunities.
On one side, these organizations offer professional development opportunities to continue economic development training, obviously meant for those who are already practitioners. There are also certifications and credentials that are offered as well, that take a more academic approach to economic development. These programs are nationally accredited and attended internationally. They address the fundamentals of economic development as a career, as well digging down deep into the other components of economic development. Any individual with a Certified Economic Development Credential (CEcD) offered by the IEDC, is automatically recognized as a master of economic development. These certifications are a surefire way to land any position in economic development.
The career itself is very rewarding, and like any career, the earlier you begin, the more exposure and experience you will get. The phenomenal thing about economic development in government is that you will be exposed to everything. You will soon see yourself a master of many trades you may not have been acquainted with before. One thing is for sure: economic development is a career worth exploring. If you know someone in economic development or have heard of your regional economic development agency, inquire about training and development opportunities. You certainly will be glad you did.
Heath Vescovi-Chiordi, MPA, AZED Pro, is on the board of directors for the Arizona Association for Economic Development.