How economic development is defined for councils

Published: 25th October 2021

By Paul Cranch, LGAQ Lead for Trade & Investment

One of the key challenges for many of our member councils is to clearly define economic development. I am hoping this will help clarify some of the key questions you might be asking yourself or your council.

What is economic development?

Economic development is the intentional practice of improving a community’s economic well-being and quality of life. It includes a broad range of activities to attract, create, and retain jobs, and to foster a resilient, pro-growth rate-paying base and an inclusive economy. The practice of economic development comprises of a collaborative effort involving industry, government, and myriad community stakeholders.

Who are economic development practitioners?

An economic developer is a professional practitioner of economic development. Economic developers have profession-specific education and training, and a professional certification. With varying backgrounds and specialisations, economic developers frequently provide both leadership in policymaking, as well as administering policies, programs, and projects in support of economic development. The effectiveness of economic developers lies in their ability to collaborate with industry, government, and community stakeholders. Often thought of as conveners, economic developers play a central role in leveraging the resources of a community—such as businesses, utilities, educational institutions, chambers of commerce, banks, real estate developers, neighbourhood groups, NGO’s, and more—to support economic development.

What does an economic developer do?

Professional economic developers engage in a number of tasks in support of their community’s economic development. While many economic developers may specialise in one or more areas, understanding the intersections of all is essential to success. Economic developers regularly engage in:

  • Business retention and expansion: This area consists of assessing the physical, geographical, financial, technological, and human resource needs of companies within their communities. Local governments need the ‘early warning systems’ established so that action can be taken to help at-risk companies overcome challenges that could lead to layoffs, shutdowns, or relocations.
  • Marketing and attraction: Local governments need the right resources to develop marketing strategies to promote their communities’ unique qualities, programs, and resources, and to target particular industry audiences to strengthen their community’s economic wellbeing.
  • Emerging industry development: High-tech and emerging industries are important to an economy because they provide high growth potential and “spill over” effects into other economic sectors. Partnerships between government, industry, universities and the public are critical in making emerging and technology-based development work.
  • Real estate development: Economic developers are frequently engaged in major real estate development projects, particularly industrial parks, incubators, brownfields redevelopment, and sometimes housing. Although the vast majority of real estate development projects are a response to market forces, economic developers’ engagement is crucial where public sector support is the only way to ensure equitable development projects in a community.
  • Workforce development: Economic developers work in concert with workforce development agencies to support a robust, resilient talent pool for existing and future businesses in their community. This includes engaging with businesses to know their current and future talent demands, working with educational institutions to translate that into training programs, and partnering with workforce development agencies to develop policies that support businesses and workers alike.
  • Strategic planning: Economic developers are involved in the development and execution of a community or region’s strategic plan. The strategic plan provides a path toward economic success and wellbeing and incorporates several key stakeholders. The role of an economic developer as a convener is perhaps no more critical than in the context of a community’s strategic plan.
  • Economic resiliency and recovery: Natural and economic disruptions require extensive planning to build resiliency and execute recovery. Economic developers play a vital role in helping their communities prepare for and recover from economic disruption. This work involves analysis of existing vulnerabilities, technical assistance for businesses, and community planning involving many community stakeholders, among other activities.
  • International opportunities (investment and exports): Economic developers are increasingly engaged in international opportunities to support their local and regional economy. These activities include attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) into their community, working with their businesses in exporting to overseas markets, and remaining knowledgeable about current trade issues and how they may impact their economy.