Ability to adapt to change critical to community health, individual prosperity

Defining economic development

Posted: Monday, May 19, 2003

I was asked the other day about what individuals can do to assist their community's economic development efforts. I really had to think about this for a while, which surprised me.

First, economic development is not the same as economic growth.

Secondly, many folks perceive and define economic development quite differently from one another.

Thirdly, we disagree about the importance of economic development because we can't agree on what role the public sector should play. Finally, this article would be quite lengthy unless I focused on what I consider the priorities. With that said, for the purpose of this article, I want to limit the definition of economic development to creating and retaining wealth through sustainable job creation and income growth. Simply put, job creation and income growth produce growing economies and increase wealth.

For professional development organizations like the Kenai Peninsula Economic Develop-ment District, the goal of economic development is to create a positive environment so that the private sector will have the confidence to invest and create jobs. Individually, the goal is to make smart choices so that one's quality of life improves over time. On the surface, the goals appear to differ. But with a closer look, organizational and individual goals are not unlike.

Organizations and individuals should set priorities based on what's critical for long-term success. They both must ask what is prudent and necessary to obtain this success. They should understand their strengths and weaknesses and develop a series of objective goals (be results oriented). Organizations and individuals should have plans for not only the good times but have contingency plans for the not-so-good times. Setting benchmarks are also important and unfortunately often overlooked.

I would summarize this process with one word commitment.

One needs to ask what makes economic sense? What opportunities are there? How do I take advantage of my strengths? Am I better off today than yesterday? And if not, why?

To achieve your goals and objectives, because you are committed, internal assessment and investment is required. Businesses continually appraise their performance and look after their largest investment staff. Staff development is vital to the success of any organization. Individuals need to perform a personal assessment as well. We should always consider means to improving our work skills and education other than raising children, many would argue that one's career is the most important investment in one's life.

Because of the economic pressures, especially in a global economy, businesses and organizations typically change their mission and the way they conduct business every five to seven years. Competition and technology advances force these issues. To achieve this takes acceptance of change. Change is inevitable in today's economy.

Individuals have to do the same. Unfortun-ately, because of static comfort levels, folks rarely want change. Lack of acceptance to change is the largest impediment to economic development.

For the sake of this article, education is not exclusively academic, but also incorporates life preparation skills and vocational and technical virtues. Community and economic development initiatives lead to good education systems and programs. Good education systems and programs lead to an attractive work force. An attractive work force attracts private investment. New private investment leads to economic growth. Economic growth builds new wealth. This new wealth creates new opportunities and positively affects the economic base of the community. The community attracts more families. The education systems and programs improve because of the new demand from the population growth. In the end, the result is a healthier community.

Individually, personal initiatives lead to self-improvement by developing our skills, talents and education level. These improved skills lead to better employment opportunities. Over time, our work-force value increases and eventually leads to higher compensation. This higher compensation leads to better opportunities that result in a higher quality of life.

Sure you can contribute to economic development by inviting your friends and family (and their wallets) down from Anchorage, improving your investment strategy, changing your consumption habits (buy locally), voting consistently, participating with all levels of politics, getting involved with more not-for-profit organizations and offering answers not complaints. However, as I prefaced, individuals all of us can more effectively contribute to economic development, therefore improving our quality of life, by being focused through commitment, accepting change and improving our workforce value.

Education and maintaining a good work ethic are the key. Be progressive and set the example for your neighbor and his or her neighbor. Support your local schools and post-secondary schools, like the Alaska Vocational Technical Center in Seward and Kenai Peninsula College. Your decisions, behavior and habits will have a direct affect on your development, your worth and ultimately the quality of life you lead.

The goal for all of us is to make our communities attractive, better places to live and invest in.

James Carter, who has lived in Alaska about 24 years, is the executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District. He started his employment with EDD in October 2001 as the finance and loan officer. Prior to joining EDD, he was the general manger for Northland Credit, a National Bank of Alaska subsidiary. He also was a commercial loan officer for Bank of the North. He graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a bachelor's degree in accounting.

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