A Great Big Game of Whac-A-Mole

Whac-A-Mole is an arcade redemption game. Once the game starts, the moles will begin to pop up from their holes at random. The object of the game is to force the individual moles back into their holes by hitting them directly on the head with the mallet, thereby adding to the player’s score. The quicker this is done the higher the final score will be.
Sitting at a local EDO Board meeting yesterday, the executive director (and only employee) was explaining to his board that he is really busy, and sometimes feels like he is just able to keep up as if he were playing a game of Whac-A-Mole. A business owner calls, an alderman calls, the state sends an inquiry which needs a response by Friday, there is a Workforce Development Board meeting, a local ribbon cutting, bills need to get paid, and don’t forget the regional conference, City Council meeting and sixteen emails that need responses.
As an economic developer we have to be good at so many things, especially if we are sole practitioners in a one-person operation. We have to know the specifics of a solid business retention program and along with that, the ins-and-outs of a successful business. That alone is enough information and learning to keep a person busy for lifetime. In a small operation it’s not enough just to do business retention/expansion activities all day long (although that is the most important work we undertake). Economic developers also have to be good marketers. We market the community to outsiders (site selectors, businesses, visitors, partner organizations located elsewhere, etc.) as well as local stakeholders and residents. We also market our efforts to our funders and supporters. And marketing isn’t just being able to sell. Marketing includes knowing what makes a good web site and how to actually reach out to those with whom we need to connect.
Oh yeah, we have to be fundraisers too. And it is important to understand workforce development, entrepreneurial development, strategic planning, organizational development, technology, and so much more.
How do we even know we’re making progress? I have always said, “Economic development is not a game for the impatient”. By focusing our individual efforts on the needs of the businesses in the community we will make the biggest impact. That focus will lead to becoming adept at financing issues, workforce development issues, expansion issues and more.
The practitioner who was playing Whac-A-Mole told his board that he will drop everything for a business that needs his assistance. That’s the right attitude. The next challenge lies in how we communicate those results to our stakeholders. Stay tuned for next month’s blog!

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