Maureen Krauss: Profiles in Leadership
By RDG Principal Amy Curtis
RDG has a long history of working with Maureen Krauss. Today, we are working with her and the Detroit Regional Partnership in a consulting capacity to help bolster their Investor Relations work (stay tuned for more information in the coming months).
Maureen Krauss, President and CEO, has created a dynamic team that generates positive opportunities for business and talent in the Detroit region. On a personal note, this interview was a joy, as Maureen and I have known each other for nearly ten years. Our relationship started when she hired me as her Investor Relations Director at the Indy Chamber, and it has continued to blossom. Today, I consider her a colleague, mentor, and close friend.
What were you doing before entering the economic development space, and how did you decide that economic development was your path?
My entire career has been in economic development. I started as a college intern in graduate school for a small nonprofit, the predecessor of Ann Arbor Spark. At that time, it was the top office in the state, and they were developing cutting-edge computer applications. As with most internships, you do whatever they throw at you. I loved getting exposure to different projects, including compiling data analytics and site-building work. After that, I was hired by the University of Michigan to set up computer systems, develop applications for economic development around the state, and train employees to use the applications.
Tell me about the evolution of your economic development career:
I always took a job that was a stretch with the thought that I wanted to learn something more. I did local first. That is a fantastic foundation for anyone because that's where the deals get closed. Frequently, I went into programs that needed a lot of help, and that taught me to take what I knew, apply it, and then use my network to help fill in the gaps and tackle challenges that arose. I worked in a couple of communities in Michigan and then moved to Arizona. Some of the ideas I brought were new to Arizona, but not to economic development. We used the power of marketing. Specifically, marketing related to sports, telling the community story, and developing a deep understanding that economic development differs in every community. To be successful it needs to be rooted in what the priorities of that community are.
Eventually, I returned to Michigan and landed in Oakland County, a wealthy and internationally focused community. Working there, I learned that your calling card is your primary city. If you're working globally, regional is best. Economies are regional, supply chains are regional, and talent is regional.
Who inspired you along the way or served as a mentor?
When I entered the economic development field, Birgit Klohs was among the few women. She's still a dear friend; we've worked together for years.
Some others who come to mind include (but are not limited to) Mike Ammann, John Carroll, and Jeff Kaczmarek. They all allowed me to learn and be the best I could be.
What are the current main challenges for professionals in economic development?
I think that there are two things:
We’ve gotten into a mode where everyone thinks they're an economic developer. Everyone thinks it's easy to do and they can do it. The reality is that it's just like any other profession; there are skills/skill sets that you need to be successful.
The polarization of our country is impacting national economic development. Never before have I seen such a debate on whether or not communities want specific types of jobs and investments in their area. The lesson from that is the need for long-term planning that is inclusive and transparent on what you want your community to be.
What lessons have you learned that you want to pass on to others?
Focusing on the relationship side of this work creates the most success compared to the transactional side.
Listening to what communities/ customers/ businesses want. When I worked in Indianapolis, our success with being shortlisted for the Amazon HQ2 project resulted from being focused on “what does the customer want?” Not “what does the community want?”/ “What does the developer want?” It was about listening to the customer and being laser-focused on that.
Owning and telling your authentic story is critical to success. That is something in Detroit that we are evolving into right now. Not letting everyone else tell our story.
What advice would you give to those just starting in economic development?
Having local experience is essential. It gives you an appreciation for how a deal gets finalized. Spending time in business retention is also crucial because it is the foundation of the community and all economic development efforts. If you cannot keep who you have, and help them grow, it will be hard to bring new in. That also allows you to learn what makes companies succeed in your community.
What excites you most about your current role here in Detroit?
We are at a moment in our region where we've overcome some vast disruptors.
Our core population is resilient and is now seeing the results of a revitalized core city. We have a regional unemployment rate lower than the national average, which shows excellent opportunities and an appreciation for some of our assets that will help keep and attract talent.
It’s no longer a “feel sorry for Detroit moment.” It’s a “what's going on there; we hear good things.”
What is the number one issue facing communities?
What was your favorite project throughout your career?
Peoria Sports Complex in AZ. The first two-team Major League Baseball Spring Training Facility.
What has been your favorite local project during your tenure at DRP thus far?
The collective international investment that I've worked on.
What is one market area that you have not worked in that you have always wanted to?
South America. It is a vastly untapped opportunity and would be an intriguing challenge.
What is one challenge that you would welcome the opportunity to take on?
Solving the national office occupancy (or lack thereof) challenge. What are we going to do with all this office space?
What is your favorite part about economic development?
Working in this field and making a difference in the communities has been a privilege. I have also loved learning about different companies/ ideas and what makes them succeed.
How has RDG helped you along the way?
To be effective, you need to have community buy-in and approach it as an investment for the greater good of your community. RDG has helped DRP (and other organizations I have worked with in the past) marry together time, talent, and treasure.