By Matt Yancey
Economic development. It’s a term that we hear a lot. The trouble is it can be really tough to tell what it means. As it becomes an increasing focus of conversation in and around Davis, it is more important than ever to work from a common definition; and, to examine the respective interpretations and meanings we all have for it.
As Chief Executive Officer of the Davis Chamber, I represent over 500 businesses located here and in the surrounding area. I report to a 17-member Board of Directors, speaking on their behalf in all matters of official Chamber business. Technically, I am also a member of the Davis Chamber’s Board; but, I am non-voting. My role is to provide advice and counsel to the Board and, having done so, implement their strategic direction.
Why is that relevant to this column? It provides essential context. My interpretation of economic development is the basis for the advice and counsel I provide the Davis Chamber’s Board of Directors. And, it directly influences my interactions with you as we discuss the innovation parks, rail relocation, broadband infrastructure, and many other critical local issues.
Let’s start with the definition. To paraphrase the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), economic development “seeks to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community, by creating … jobs that facilitate growth and provide a stable tax base.” For those unfamiliar with IEDC, it is the largest and most respected non-profit, non-partisan association of professional economic developers in the world.
Definitions are generally pretty straightforward, but they are also open to interpretation. The definition of economic development is no different. As all of us that have a vested interest in Davis’ economic well-being and quality of life interpret its meaning, we will draw conclusions as to how economic development can be used to improve that well-being. This is where it gets confounding; unless, of course, we all have a clear understanding of our respective interpretations.
Which is why, in my first column for the Vanguard, I’d like to share mine.
In my interpretation, the one word in this definition that has the least significance is “growth.” That’s not to say it isn’t significant. It’s just the least significant piece of this particular puzzle. I’ll explain why in a moment. First, though, let’s look at what I believe to be the most significant piece.
Improving the economic well-being and quality of life for the community is, for me, what this is all about. Jobs are a key component to that. Not the only component, but a key one. The fact is that someone with a job has a greater degree of fiscal self-reliance and stability than someone that does not have a job. A community is comprised of individual people. When we create the conditions where a person can be more fiscally stable today than he or she was yesterday, we’ve improved the well-being and quality of life for the community.
We have also created a scenario in which additional tax revenue is collected, helping to stabilize local finances, without increasing tax rates. Does that mean it fixes all of our fiscal challenges? No, it doesn’t, particularly in the short term. But, as a piece of a larger solution, it sure does help. Plus, in the long term, it helps prevent further instability.
So why is the word “growth” so relatively insignificant in this discussion? Improvements in our economic well-being and quality of life can come from growth in so many different things. Do they come from development and population growth? Yes, to a degree. But they also come from growth in a person’s job skills; growth in the number of places people can interact and share new ideas; and, even growth in services that provide reliable roofs and hot meals for those needing to get back on their feet.
What does economic development mean to me? It isn’t fundamentally about putting up new buildings or expanding Davis’ borders. It isn’t about moving railroad tracks and installing the newest high tech broadband infrastructure. It isn’t even about minimum wages or energy distribution. It’s about finding the best possible means to improve the economic well-being of as many people as possible.
Now that you know what it means to me, what does it mean to you? More importantly, how can we use it to improve people’s lives?
Matt Yancey is Chief Executive Officer for the Davis Chamber of Commerce. He formerly worked as Director of Economic Development at the Sacramento Metro Chamber and has 15 years of experience in the field of economic development.