Economic development is the process of building strong, adaptive economies. Strategies driven by local assets and realities, a diverse industry base, and a commitment to equality of opportunity and sustainable practices have emerged as those that will ensure a strong foundation for long-term stability and growth. Even within the parameters of these principles, what constitutes success in economic development and the specific strategies to accomplish it will look different from place to place. Despite these differences, leadership is consistently identified as a critical factor in effective economic development.
Dedicated leadership is needed to raise awareness, help develop and communicate a common vision, and motivate stakeholders into action. Although leadership can come from many places within the community, local elected officials are particularly well-positioned to take on this role. The political influence of elected leadership is critical to helping communities stay the course toward a vibrant economic future. From the bully pulpit to the design and coordination of public policies, mayors and councilmembers have opportunities every day to effect change and promote a strategic vision of economic growth for their community.
The goal of this guide is not to provide a one-size-fits-all solution to economic development or even to offer an Economic Development 101. Nor does this guide contend that elected officials should be economic development experts. The goal is instead to identify fundamental ways elected officials can become informed and strategic decision-makers who can connect the policy "dots," be effective communicators, and take a leadership role in economic development. The guide is based on the premise that elected officials can and should actively participate in and lead long-term development strategies that make sense for their community.