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From Site Selection magazine, November 2017

Raising the Bar


Will a new economic development credential make your site discernment more productive?


Think about the last time you sat down with an economic developer in a community you were considering for a future facility. After you left the meeting, how impressed were you with his or her grasp of the real-world forces and dynamics shaping today’s location decision making? Was there a sense you were teaching them about what goes into capital investment decisions in 2017 and beyond?

The point of a new economic development credential initiative getting under way this winter (after five years in the making) is to make sure economic developers who complete the Advanced Economic Development Leadership (AEDL) Program and earn the Master Practitioner diploma are the best in their field. Four partner universities will confer the diploma: Clemson University, the University of Southern Mississippi, Texas Christian University (TCU), and the University of Alabama. The two-week program in 2018 takes place in two locations — the first week at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, in February and the second at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri in August.

The difference between this credential and others in the economic development world is leadership, according to the program’s designers. 

“The multi-university collaboration adds significant weight, and the curriculum demonstrates that this is advanced leadership — we are emphasizing the leadership component,” says Nan Johnston, director and “Chief Idea Scout” at the Clemson Center for Corporate Learning. “We’ve been clear upfront that we consider this a capstone certificate, and the application process winnows the field.”

“Our program is designed for the mid- to senior-level economic development professional to help expand their professional knowledge and capabilities as they lead their organizations through a rapidly changing and highly competitive environment,” adds Jim Roach, executive director of TCU Neeley Executive Education. “It will include many real world and leading-edge topics such as data analytics, talent development as a differentiator, leading in complexity, as well as subject matter expert insight on community development, building proposal responses, and the economic developer as change agent.”

How Site Selectors Benefit

Why should corporate capital investors care if the economic developer they’re working with has this credential? More to the point, how can corporate site selectors benefit from the course, or from working with those with the Master Practitioner diploma?

Retired University of Southern Mississippi Professor (marketing) and AEDL faculty member Bill Smith explains: “They need to know as much as possible about what the future is bringing to the field; the correct way to use data (workforce, etc.) to evaluate a community; what social media tells us about a community, leadership, both a ‘new and different’ workforce (professionals, too) and the proper way to get the results you want working with a team; and using the skills you learn in marketing to align and motivate the people who work for you to achieve the results you seek. One of the best outcomes will be the opportunity to interact with such a diverse group of individuals and to learn from each other. This part of the interacting is just as important as the high quality of our faculty.” The faculty includes top site consultants, economic developers in the area and utility sectors, academics and experts in specific facets of the program ( 

What can site selectors look forward to when the diplomas start hitting the economic development ranks in late 2018?

“Each participant will return to their communities better prepared to create jobs from several approaches and will be able to engage the community in active community development,” says Neal Wade, former director of the Alabama Development Office, a leading architect of the AEDL program and director of the University of Alabama Economic Development Academy. “They will learn from faculty and classmates new ways to engage elected officials, develop local teams, become change agents for key challenges and, overall, become better professional and personal leaders.”

Mark Arend
Editor Emeritus of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend is editor emeritus of Site Selection, and previously served as editor in chief from 2001 to 2023. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.


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