Go to any Village Board or City Council meeting and pose the simple question – “What are the top three things this community needs?” Along with “more parking in the downtown” chances are one of the top answers will be “economic development”. Simple enough – but what is it exactly? More stores and restaurants? Sounds good. More jobs? That would be nice. How about infrastructure repairs and improved storm-water management? No? The reality is that economic development is a culmination of many different things including issues that are seemingly unrelated. An area that is prone to flooding and sewer backups every time it rains probably will not see the same level of investment as other areas. A business may leave town if the street and sidewalk outside of their building is in constant disrepair. Even the personalities and demeanor of officials and staff has an impact on economic development. A surly planner and a micromanaging plan commission can be a deterrent to anyone looking to develop or invest in a community.
The reality is that nobody “does economic development”. Economic development isn’t a verb or activity. It isn’t just in the job description of an Economic Development Director who goes to ICSC or tries to extol the virtues of their town to the site selection people for Applebee’s. It needs to be on the minds of every department head, staff person, and elected and appointed officials. That international firm with five thousand employees may have just chosen your town because the street-sweeper happened to come down the block just before their visit. That’s economic development.