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When I first started in economic development: I thought that there was a hierarchy.
Business owners and CEOs were on top. They were the ultimate decision-makers.
But rarely did they act alone, because they relied on a class of special advisors called site selectors. This secretive, powerful guild were almost like priests; their unique wisdom, and whispered advice could make or break projects.
Beneath them was this vast horde of the unwashed masses -- other economic developers. They spent the entirety of their professional lives trying desperately to gain the attention and favor of the two groups above them.
Sometimes they'd score a direct relationship with a business owner or CEO and win a project that way. Still, the best long-term strategy was to curry the favor of the site selectors to develop a client-patron relationship.
But boy, was I wrong.
Start doing economic development and over time, and if you go to meetings, conferences and do standard econ dev stuff, you'll meet people. And some of these people will become your friends. And then you'll realize that my picture of medieval feudalism in the industry was all wrong because most of the time, these other professionals are just regular folks like you. Sometimes they're economic developers, site selectors or business owners; but that's secondary. Because mostly, we're just friends.
Sometimes I help them. Sometimes they help me. Sometimes we compete. Sometimes I win projects. Sometimes I don't.
But really, we are just friends, talking about our life or ideas, hanging out, checking in, and having fun.
It was a long time before I realized that this is how things get done. People send business to people they like. It's all more personal than you ever expected.
The point is: As you're out there doing economic development, get personal.
Even if it starts professional, get personal as soon as possible. Be a friend. That's how things get done.
If you find this advice useful, please share it with a friend or colleague.
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