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Takeaways from the 2017 IEDC Leadership Summit

Updated: Aug 17, 2023


I always enjoy the late January IEDC Leadership Conference — shorter timespan, more relaxed, nice warm southern city.  What’s not to like?

This year’s conference was special for a number of reasons – the content was particularly relevant, the host city fantastic, and the weather …… well, maybe a little chilly but the sun did shine, a lot!

Four things in particular stood out for me at this conference:

First is the important industry shift, confirmed via program content and dialogue, towards product improvement.  A quick scan of the agenda indicates the significant portion dedicated to talent, building partnerships, innovation and infrastructure development. This is where the industry is heading; not away from traditional business recruitment and existing industry focus-those will always be the blocking and tackling of economic development, but towards building communities that are better positioned for those things.

It’s a subtle but profound shift in emphasis and kudos to IEDC for getting out in front of the trend.  The fact is many traditional economic development organizations are not built to address product challenges so we need our industry association to lead the way. THANK YOU for forcing the industry to look into the future and begin to put the building blocks in place to address these challenges.

Second, I was encouraged by a peek into the future.  In recent years I have found myself eagerly awaiting the announcement of DCI’s 40 Under 40 class.  It is always full of impressive young leaders and this year’s class was especially robust: A number of the 2017 inductees work with RDG clients – Megan Barnett-Livgard and Peter Frosch at Greater MSP, Ashley Elrod at the Indy Chamber, Justin Horvath at the Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership, Jeremiah Gracia at the City of Dublin, OH, and Gabrielle Zurita of JAXUSA Partnership. Smart, creative, innovative young leaders.  Clearly the future of our industry and seeing the depth of this group of talent gives me great confidence in what might be next!

Third, and perhaps most importantly, is IEDC’s continuing ability to pivot and lead.  Harkening back to my first point regarding the industry shift towards product improvement, leading and sometimes forcing change in a mature industry such as ours is hard work.  The easy way would be to sit on the sidelines, continue to do what you have always done in a static but safe format.  The hard way, and in my opinion the better way, is to get out of your comfort zone, read the tea leaves, jump in front of the fast moving train of change and lead the way.  That’s what I see IEDC doing.  From Jeff Finkle’s always informative, entertaining and edge nibbling State Of The Industry presentation (here and here) to the release of EDRP’s latest report on Regionalism, IEDC isn’t reveling in the past, but rather it is paving the way into the future.

Finally, the Host Committee, led by Jerry Mallot and his team at JAXUSA Partnership, did a fabulous job!  RDG has had the distinct pleasure of working with JAXUSA many times and can attest to the highest caliber of professionalism, innovation and cutting edge creativity, all of which was evident during the conference; and did I mention that weather?  Congratulations to the Host Committee and Host City, Jacksonville, Florida, on a job well done!

On a lighter note – I was struck by the irony of a session on work-life balance held on Sunday afternoon!  Now THAT is an interesting sense of humor!

Up next:  Fed Forum, Economic Futures Forum in Little Rock, the Annual Conference in Toronto and next year’s Leadership Conference in Las Vegas ……  I can’t wait!

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