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A bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce


Q&A: Jeff Finkle, International Economic Development Council

IEDC's president and CEO discusses regional strategies that promote economic and job growth.

Q: IEDC supports the efforts of economic developers across America's regions. Where has it been successful in promoting regional economic competitiveness?

A: As the world’s largest membership organization serving the economic development profession, with over 4,400 members-97 percent of them in the United States-IEDC members aim to create, retain, and expand jobs; grow the tax base; and enhance wealth in the communities where they work.IEDC members represent the entire range of economic development experience, and we work closely with economic development practitioners and community stakeholders to design cooperative strategies for both rural and urban areas in order to help build strong, sustainable regions using best practices in economic development.

Through our services, we strive to provide cutting-edge knowledge to the economic development community and vigorously promote regional economic competiveness through such vehicles as:

  • IEDC’s bimonthly e-newsletter, Economic Development Now, which highlights best practice examples and new trends in economic development. One of our most popular articles, from March 2010 (“In Southwest Missouri, Economic and Workforce Developers Achieve Results Through Real Collaboration”), discussed how the regional relationships have fostered the ability of a region to compete in the global economy. Another article, in April 2009 (“Regional Knowledge Ecosystems: Laying the Groundwork for Future Technology-Based Economic Development”), examined the use of targeted strategies for regional partnerships to strengthen regional knowledge ecosystems.
  • IEDC’s research publications, which focus on the important matters that impact our communities and the profession, enabling practitioners to better compete in today’s global economy. One recent publication, Jobs in the Making: Economic Development Strategies to Grow Manufacturing, identifies key trends and strategies for accelerating innovation and regional industry clusters.
  • IEDC conferences, which provide a forum for knowledge exchange among thousands of practitioners, policymakers, and private-sector leadership. At our upcoming spring conference-to be held June 10-12 in St. Louis, Missouri-we will discuss how regions can leverage their unique assets to spark innovation, strengthen infrastructure, and cultivate a place where talented people and firms want to be.
  • RestoreYourEconomy.org, a disaster recovery web portal that IEDC developed with an EDA grant, to provide practitioners with practical guidance and post-disaster tools and information to promote investment, retain local employment, and restore lost jobs in the event of a disaster. This website is full of case examples, which feature strategies on collaborative processes and recovery efforts to support the strengthening, diversification, and resiliency of local and regional economies.

Q: Assistant Secretary Fernandez will address IEDC’s Federal Economic Development Forum next month. Manufacturing is one of the topics that will be discussed. What steps has the Obama administration taken to revitalize manufacturing in regions do you view as impactful?

A: Manufacturing is a major driver of investment in research and innovation and a key draw for foreign direct investment. Notably, manufacturing has the highest economic multiplier of any industry, with one job supporting three additional jobs.

Probably the most important thing the Obama administration did was provide stimulus money to General Motors and Chrysler. General Motors is once again the world’s largest auto manufacturer.

One of the other more important initiatives of the administration is to focus attention on alternative energy. Nearly a third of our trade deficit is caused by the importation of fossil fuels. If we can reduce that dependency by generating more fossil fuels here and replacing the importation through solar, wind, co-generation, and other alternative approaches we can increase jobs here and reduce our trade deficit.

There are many manufacturing jobs that could be filled with appropriately trained employees. The administration’s focus on job training and encouragement of the use of community colleges to provide certificates for certain skills is a very important focus to help recapture manufacturing jobs here in the states.

There are several other initiatives that are of real interest. From the administration’s National Export Initiative, to the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership ExporTech Program, to the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms. These initiatives all have a positive impact on fostering U.S. manufacturing. These steps are vital to helping both large and small firms overcome the hurdles in developing their export capabilities through financing, or providing critical education and training to better position manufacturers, or to spur investment in emerging technologies. The administration’s effort to help manufacturers reduce energy usage and make production processes more efficient is yet another noteworthy step to boost U.S. manufacturing advantage.

Moreover, federal manufacturing policy has always been somewhat fractured, with different agencies addressing different needs. However, the $37 million Jobs Accelerator Challenge leverages funding from three federal agencies and technical assistance from 13 additional agencies to support the development of high-growth industry clusters across the country. This initiative really underscores the holistic effort the administration is taking, and I view such coordination as key to success in this crucial area for national competiveness.

The $2 million Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge award for the Center for Innovation and Enterprise Engagement this past January exemplifies the positive impact of such an effort. This investment will support the south central Kansas region’s efforts to jumpstart advanced manufacturing and create jobs for the future. It will also help to diversify the regional economy and strengthen the region’s global competitiveness.

Q: EDA investments help accelerate the sustainable creation of high-quality jobs and economic growth by facilitating the implementation of bottom up, regionally-owned strategies. IEDC has partnered with EDA to launch Restore Your Economy to help regions rebuild after a disaster and to support economic recovery efforts in the Gulf after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. What are your thoughts on EDA’s regional approach? Can you identify some of the best practices?

A: IEDC strongly supports EDA’s regional approach and we are proud to have launched the Restore Your Economy portal in collaboration with EDA. Today, with such stringent limitations on resources, stakeholders need to collaborate and leverage both public and private funding and assistance for a regional approach to succeed. EDA has become the principle source for expertise, coordination, and the vital funding needed to generate meaningful regional growth. Notably, EDA’s Economic Development Districts and the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy have been the primary mechanisms that EDA promotes to foster regional economic development. These tools are instrumental in encouraging collaborative regional plans and effective planning processes.

The recession and the increase in disasters-both natural and manmade-have heightened awareness on the benefits of collaborating regionally. In IEDC’s January 2012 membership survey, “concentrating on a regional basis” and “engaging in more strategic partnerships” were among the top five responses to a question regarding top objectives for 2012.

In terms of best practices, there are many, but I would like to mention the $10 million Revolving Loan Fund investment that EDA made with the Gulf Coast Economic Development District in 2009 to help facilitate the recovery of the region's economy after Hurricane Ike. This investment helps in providing gap financing to foster business and job retention. In addition, EDA’s $600,000 investment with ACCION Texas in 2009 was crucial to aiding small businesses to recover from flooding caused by Hurricane Dolly through loans, technical assistance, and financial literacy training.

And who can forget the $2.3 million that EDA awarded in 2008 to rebuild the public infrastructure of Main Street in Greensburg, Kansas, after much of the town was destroyed by a tornado? EDA’s infrastructure component for Greensburg is being constructed in conjunction with a business incubator funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with other projects funded by the Small Business Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The coordinated response amplifies the efforts of EDA and underscores the importance of collaboration among federal agencies in terms of regional recovery efforts.

It is important to note that EDA really becomes a partner-and not just a provider of funds in these efforts-and that is what makes the approach ever more effective in the mission to create sustainable growth at the regional level.

Jeff Finkle brings over 30 years of experience to the economic development profession. Since 1986 he has served as president and chief operating officer of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), the world's largest economic development membership organization. Since IEDC's formation in 2001 from the merger of the Council for Urban Economic Development and the American Economic Development Council, Finkle has overseen its growth to be an organization of 30 employees with an annual operating budget of $5 million. IEDC is recognized for its leadership in making sustainable economic development a priority in communities of all sizes and for professionalizing and diversifying the field of economic development.