The Role of Local Elected Officials in Economic Development: 10 Things You Should Know is part of the Center for Research and Innovation’s ongoing work to provide city leaders with the skills to become informed, strategic decision-makers in economic development. The “ten things” were derived from analysis of successful city programs and interviews with economic development professionals, elected leaders, academics and business organizations.
As discussed throughout the guide, local elected officials have clear and specific roles to play in their cities' efforts to build a strong local economy. However, success in filling these roles often depends on the relationship between elected officials and staff members who work on economic development issues on a daily basis.
As a local elected official, you are often the public face and the cheerleader for your city on economic development. When you are giving a speech, talking to a local business, or discussing a new project with constituents, you must be prepared with the facts or run the risk of seeming uninformed and out of touch.
Staying up to date requires open and regular communications with and trust in your city's economic development staff. Your relationship with staff will enable you to gain a better understanding of the economic position of your city, changing local and regional conditions, and your city's economic development plans and priorities. You will be better able to articulate economic goals to constituents and the media and make more informed policy decisions based on the most current information. This is especially important in the current economy, as city resources are scarcer and businesses and citizens alike are looking for informed leadership.
Local officials should begin building a strong relationship with economic development staff at the beginning of a political term or new project. Economic development is a complex topic; most newly elected officials may not have an in-depth understanding of the current economic policies or the city's long-term vision and strategy. By forging a relationship early on, local officials can come up to speed more quickly and be able to make better policy decisions in the long run.
It's also important to consider what expertise and knowledge you bring to the relationship that city staff may not have. Most elected officials come to office with a professional background in an area other than local government, such as banking, small business or healthcare. This can make you uniquely qualified to represent the city to important economic interests. With open communication, your city's economic development staff can become more aware of your skills and seek opportunities to use them.