30 09 2013

I am stoked about my research topic. Nathaniel King for the win. Happy dance.

Nathaniel’s the public policy librarian at Davis Library. I was starting at ground zero and he pointed me in the right direction today. Nathaniel aligned my search with Library of Congress subheads, pointed me to the most relevant databases for my topic, and steered me to NC LINC for economic and population data. Hug a librarian yo.

So, my research topic is business retention and expansion (BRE) strategies in North Carolina.

Existing businesses are responsible for 80% of growth in a community. That means jobs, tax base, quality of life, and ultimately (though it’s not the job of economic developers), lifting people out of poverty. We offer hundreds of millions of dollars to MetLife and Dell though we know an educated workforce trumps incentives anyday and when we should prioritize loving our existing businesses instead.

Here’s a stab at my research question. Pretty rough still.

  • What business retention strategies produce the most growth?
  • Which counties in North Carolina have produced the greatest existing industry growth?
  • How do rural business retention strategies compare to those used by urban counties?

I have to dig into the data to see what’s there. Many things I don’t know:

  • What number(s) can I use as a proxy for business retention and expansion?
  • How do I overlay business expansion data with demographic and socioeconomic profiles of counties? Sh!t. This could quickly become daunting.
  • Will data analysis reveal low-performing counties/disadvantaged/income-below-the-state-average counties that still manage to do well in growing existing businesses?
  • What comes first? Qualitative interviews with business retention specialists to understand what questions to ask in a quantitative survey?
  • Or do I start with a quantitative survey to counties and/or an analysis of the data and then follow up with interviews, sort of cherry pick high-performing rural and urban counties for a comparative case study analysis?

아이구 머리가 아프다

I think this qualifies as the gap in existing research Dr. George keeps referring to.
Next steps–

  1. Dig into LINC data
  2. Meet with Dr. George to vet this direction
  3. Meet with SOG faculty or Dept. of Commerce staff to understand what the data sets are

D@mn. I wish I had more time to focus on research. Now I can understand how people pursue PhDs. You find a research topic you’re stoked about, have a super advisor, and you’re not weighted down by the reading and writing assignments from your other classes. Sigh.

Economic development @UNC

7 08 2012

“If you’re looking for a 9-to-5 job, you can get up and leave right now.
This is not a job. This is a lifestyle.” – Ronnie Bryant, President, Charlotte Regional Partnership

Ronnie Bryant closed the economic development boot camp I attended at UNC last week and sold me on wanting to work in this field.

In the lean years at F4K, when John Shaw and I worked long hours to keep the lights on, I used to think, “That’s it. I’m going to find some high-need, stable job that won’t keep me up at nights.”


We didn’t sleep or earn much then, but I felt alive.
Economic development gives me that same motivation to get involved.

Simply, economic development is about creating jobs in your community.
That can include loving on your existing businesses and stealing recruiting businesses from somewhere else. Increase your tax base, improve the quality of life for people in your hood.

UNC’s School of Government runs this most excellent, annual course called “Basic Economic Development”.

Even for me, coming from a career and workforce development POV and not working in econdev right now, the course was worthwhile. We learned about ethics codes, business retention strategies and how county vs. regional economic development organizations work together.

Some memorable takeaways:

Incentives are BS.

Businesses look at workforce, infrastructure, workforce, education, workforce and oh, also workforce, when they consider moving to an area. Company heads may say they want incentives on the table, but generally after they’ve decided to move to your area. This came from a no-BS 20-year veteran site consultant.

Workforce, workforce, workforce.
Mac Holladay‘s exact words were: “If you don’t remember anything else I say here today, remember workforce. The rest is details.”

Businesses want to know they can hire the workforce they need, if they locate in, say, Person County, and they really don’t care, if that workforce is driving from Danville, VA or not.

Would-be entrepreneurs cite healthcare as the number one obstacle to starting a new business.

If you’re thinking about taking this course, take it. Add the dates to your calendar, so you don’t miss it. We had top-notch content everyday from veteran developers. And while I’m $650 poorer, I’m more resolved to come back from Korea and get to work. I miss being part of a movement.

Interested in economic development? UNC’s School of Government offers more than the basics boot camp.