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What an Economic Development Conference should NOT be

The NOVA Economic Conference held this morning (January 18, 2018, Falls Church, VA) promised a lot, delivered little, and was a wasted $125. It was a good example of what this type of conference should NOT be: a talking-down, politically expedient, gender and generational insensitive, old boy’s congratulatory networking data dump over a three-hour duration that was so “up against the clock” that only two questions were allowed (and only limited to the panel of EDAs). Speakers were all male; moderators women.

 In a nutshell, the conference defined economic development as an endogamous effort focused on job growth, establishment of big business and manufacturing, and attraction of FDI, wherein regionalization, innovation, collaboration and partnership are leveraged to 1) respond to consumer expectations and increase consumer spending and 2) improve the region’s contribution to state and national GDP through increased federal spending to allow one the state’s richest regions (NOVA) to 1) reverse its economic involution, 2) help its counties collaborate more effectively in their national and international marketing, talent and infrastructure development efforts, and 3) find “creative”, customer-driven and accountable solutions to competition for an enlarged tax base.

What happened to economic development as the improvement of the quality of life and economic well-being of ALL, to be achieved by translating a diversity of potentialities and talents (not limited to IT) into choices for action that can bridge the widening gap between opportunities and realization? What happened to promoting economic growth pathways that create value that is shared and has a ripple-out effect on the state as a whole? What happened to the human side of statistics to ensure one region’s desired success (and uncertain economic growth and budget availability) does not impact negatively on what August Wallmeyer has called the Extremes of Virginia, all those “other” regions facing the difficult challenges of stagnated poverty, increasing unemployment, high suicide rates, poor access to health and communication technologies, and a declining quality of education (which, by the way, result in increased out-migration of young people to the richer regions of the state in search of better economic opportunities.

Economic development is a multidimensional human process involving reorganization and reorientation of an entire social, psychological and behavioral system to improve livelihoods (i.e. autonomy), create conditions conducive to the growth of people’s self-esteem and self-realization (i.e. empowerment), and increase their freedom to choose (i.e. agency) by enlarging the range of available choices for realizing wealth-oriented behavior in a way that positively impacts the family as a whole (i.e. the state of Virginia) and empowers each family member (i.e. the regions).

Economic development conferences and summits should 1)inclusively represent the constituency (male and female, old and young) and 2) be interactive and interactive forums where leaders, policy makers and decision makers practice the art of accountability by asking for feedback and listening to it, to ensure their economic development strategies and plans don’t bend the state out of unrecoverable shape.

Astrid Ruiz Thierry / Principal at UpBoost LLC

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