December 4, 2017
Executive Vice-President of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership talks about the future of the business environment and the Young Leaders Program.
What attracted you to the field of economic development, and what are some of the biggest challenges that you have seen when it comes to stimulating urban revitalization?
I grew up in an area that was challenged by high levels of poverty and other economic disadvantages, and feel called to help people and places improve their economic prosperity and competitiveness.
I also enjoy economic development because the work is inherently multidisciplinary, with substantial interaction between the public and private sectors across a wide variety of industries and policy areas (including education, workforce development, infrastructure, tax, and regulatory issues).
My main experiences with urban revitalization are in small- and mid-size metro areas, where the biggest challenges involved building a critical mass of leadership around the problem, securing public and philanthropic financial commitments in the early stages, and maintaining a disciplined approach before real momentum is established.
Under your leadership, One Acadiana launched a new, nationally-recognized economic development program for the Lafayette, Louisiana region. How did the project unfold, and how did you manage its success?
As the new CEO of Lafayette’s chamber of commerce, I was charged with transforming a traditional organization (which primarily focused on membership services) into a vehicle that could energetically advance its stated mission: to be the leading force in the improvement of the business environment and the economic health and development of the region.
The process was a journey that involved hundreds of stakeholders across nine parishes (counties). Some things were critically important to our success: listen extensively (especially at the beginning); communicate a simple, bold vision (supported by a detailed plan) to attract leadership and funding; and maintain focus on getting the essential elements in place. I also learned a lot along the way: make your case succinctly and invite questions; acknowledge where tensions exist; put your partners in the plan, especially where distrust and/or different perspectives exist; understand and accept how people want to help (or not) and use their relationships to get others on board; and prepare for a journey with good and bad surprises.
In the end, One Acadiana represented one of most successful capital campaigns of its kind in the nation, and is helping to unlock the region’s potential through new activities in public policy and advocacy; business attraction, retention, and expansion; and urban revitalization.
You were selected as a 2017 French-American Foundation Young Leader. How was your experience in San Francisco?
I enjoyed it all; some highlights included the walking tour of the Tenderloin neighborhood and the lovely lunch toward the end of the week.
The Young Leaders program is an extraordinary leadership development opportunity – it connected me to a group of amazing people with diverse talents and engaged us all in a serious discussion of the things that will shape the next decade and beyond. In doing so, the program strengthens and renews international ties through the next generation of leaders.
What are your future plans for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, where you were recently named Executive Vice President?
I’m helping to lead the implementation of a comprehensive, multi-year strategic plan for Virginia to achieve an economic growth rate among that of the top 5-10 states in the United States while ensuring that every region participates in the growth of the Commonwealth (i.e., no regions experience negative growth). In addition, I am helping to lead efforts to restore Virginia to its previous leadership position near the top of the national business climate rankings (i.e., average position among the top 3-5 states) and to establish VEDP as America’s premier state economic development organization. In doing all of these things, we are focused on creating an organizational culture that exhibits collaboration and coordination as hallmarks of VEDP.