How to Exploit Your Local Economic Director for Fun and Profit

Let’s keep what I’m about to tell you just between us, okay?

If word ever got out that I was spilling the deepest, most sacred, biggest Big Secret of the economic development profession, I might lose my membership privileges.

First, I should clarify exactly what your local economic development professional does all day. 

  • They answer questions.
  • They solve problems.
  • They answer more questions.
  • They solve more problems.

They aren’t solving the riddles of the universe. It’s not their job to find the meaning of life or a lasting solution for peace in the Middle East. The questions they answer and the problems they solve are focused squarely on businesses in their own backyard. 

The prime directive of economic developers is, appropriately enough, to develop the local economy. In case we forget, it’s right there in the name. Our business cards are constant reminders. 

Mine says that I’m the Economic Development Director for Currituck County, North Carolina. I spend my work week helping to grow the Currituck County economy.

What exactly does that mean? In my case it means lots of phone calls, meetings and emails. I talk with small businesses, big companies and government agencies. I meet with commercial realtors, entrepreneurs and established business owners. 

And I work to make Currituck County more attractive to outside companies that are looking for a new location.

I can only speak for myself, but odds are good that your friendly neighborhood economic development director (or team) has the same kind of agenda

Which brings me to the Big Secret, which is really not much of a secret at all.

If you’re a business owner, your local economic development professional is there to help you.

If you want to start a business, grow a business or move your business, you need to reach out. Introduce yourself. Ask for advice. Share your story.

You never know what might happen next. 

Economic developers are some of the most well-connected people on the planet. I swear that I’m not bragging, it’s just a side-effect of talking to people all day every day. 

I use my collection of contacts like a never ending game of Concentration. Every day I flip over cards in search of a matching pair. 

Sometimes that match is someone looking to buy a property and someone who is thinking about selling a property. Sometimes it’s a manufacturer in search of a new part and the perfect part supplier that happens to be across the street. Sometimes it’s a talented salesman looking for a new job and a growing company with a recent opening.

Economic developers love to play that game. 

If you want to get in on it, we need your card on the table. We want to hear from you. 

Size doesn’t matter. You’re a single-person startup working from home? Great. Amazon and Apple both started in a garage and they’ve done pretty well for themselves.

We’re there for big corporations, global franchises and mom and pop retailers. You don’t need a briefcase full of cash and a 100-acre shopping list to get our attention. 

Don’t get me wrong. Big deals are still a big deal. Any economic developer would love to make the front page for closing a contract that brings a few thousand new jobs

But smart economic developers don’t sit in the stands and pray for that 'Hail Mary' touchdown pass. We don’t roam the ocean searching for a great white whale. And you won’t find us crouched in the woods, hoping that a unicorn falls into our candy corn glitter trap.

We prefer to answer questions and solve problems. We’d rather engage in conversations and make connections. That’s the simple truth.

So there you have it. You want to exploit your local economic development director for fun and profit? 

All it takes is a phone call.

This post was originally published in Inside Business.


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