How I accidentally became an economic developer: A message from John Paul Rea for National Economic Development Week

Go to any first grade classroom and ask kids what they want to be when they grow up.  You will surely get a number of inspiring and entertaining responses.  From doctor to dinosaur or professional athlete to astronaut, you can see the wonderment in their eyes when they talk about their futures.  I guarantee you that not a single one of those kids will say economic developer.  Well, that’s what I do (most days).  I am an economic developer, and the fascinating thing about my profession is that most people really don’t know what we do.  Ever more fascinating is that most economic developers really don’t know how they ended up as economic developers.  From the ranks of public administrators and MBA’s, we all kind of meander our way through government and the private sector and find this dynamic profession that links the vibrancy of community building with the innovation of the business.  So, as we celebrate National Economic Development Week, I wanted to give each of you a little bit of insight into how an economic developer helps figure out what a community should be when it grows up.

Economic development is, at its core, a function of government that exists to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for communities. It drives business growth and spurs job growth. It provides services that enhance downtowns, neighborhoods and parks. It offers assistance that helps strengthen the workforce and talent pool.  Altogether, its impact is far-reaching and significant.

As we near the end of National Economic Development Week, it is important to reflect on what economic development has meant for Macomb County and what it will mean for the future of our region. But before we dive into the details specific to our area, let me share some of my background.

I’ve been with the Department of Planning and Economic Development for more than a decade. Three years ago, I was appointed director. In this role, I oversee a dynamic team of professional planners and economic developers who are facilitating a wide range of municipal and business assistance services throughout the county. As you may have seen in a blog shared earlier this week, the work these individuals are pursuing is having a tremendous impact in our communities. We cited investments made by Amazon, Grupo Antolin and St. John Macomb-Oakland Hospital to demonstrate the scale – but those are just three examples from a long list of business commitments in Macomb County. To see more of the money invested and jobs created, visit the interactive map that our department developed to show growth in our region since 2014. Needless to say, if you look at the map, you’ll discover that our county is brimming with business activity.

Our department is also responsible for a number of other initiatives. In the last year alone we were involved in the following:

  • We provided expanded planning support to our local units of government by assisting with the Utica Master Plan, New Baltimore Parks and Recreations Plan, Richmond Master Plan and Center Line Parks and Recreation Plan.
  • We developed the Mobilize Macomb Non-Motorized Transportation Plan.
  • We launched the Groesbeck Corridor Redevelopment and Reinvestment Community Partnership Initiative and community-driven Groesbeck Corridor Prime Properties Online Mapping Application.
  • We rolled out multiple web-based data and mapping applications via an online GIS mapping portal website.
  • We recruited 58 host sites for national Manufacturing Day, resulting in opportunities for 1,812 students to see the industry in person.
  • We launched Momentum, a semi-annual magazine for residents and business attraction prospects that features interesting stories about the people and places that make Macomb County unique.
  • We successfully implemented the planting of up to 25,000 trees with Green Macomb’s Urban Forest Partnership to help increase canopy cover in targeted communities of Macomb County.
  • We secured funding for several large-scale ecological restoration and recreational projects in the Clinton River watershed and along Lake St. Clair.
  • We hosted the Bassmaster Elite Series for the third time in six years and also landed the FLW Tour for 2018, another renowned bass angling event. These events are broadcast worldwide on ESPN and NBC affiliates.
  • We mined data and worked collaboratively to promote bringing the F-35 fighter jet to Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

This effort makes Macomb County a desirable place for economic investment. It makes opening a business here a good idea. It makes hiring local talent worthwhile. Simply put, it makes our lives better. That’s why I do this work. And that’s why the hard-working, passionate team at the department comes to the office every day. We serve the public, and we care about the community.

All of this to say – I know that the future of Macomb County is bright. Our next 40 years will be driven by innovation built off the legacy we have in producing things. This state, for generations now, has not only been the epicenter of the automotive industry, but also the epicenter of the production of goods. We now sit at the fascinating intersection of digital advancement and technology. This is going to make the state of Michigan and southeast Michigan a true hotbed for talent and innovation in advanced manufacturing. It’s going to help move the needle on how we are preparing individuals in our educational systems and it’s going to challenge us to look at the way that we set up facilities and industrial operations. Most importantly, it’s going to help us build better communities and sustainable economic development models that are going to provide prosperity across many different levels.

I look forward to this era of innovation and know that the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development will be at the forefront of its emergence.

jp

John Paul Rea is director of the MCPED. He is a board member/trustee for the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (SMART), Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority and Automation Alley. He’s also active on the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and the Michigan Planning Association. 

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