Keeping a Personal Face on Economic Development
By Eric Wright
Like many of our English words, “economy” comes from a Greek root oikonomí, meaning simply, “household management.” This definition reinforces a vital point when we ponder all the facets of economic development, and one that is obviously in the forefront of the major thought leaders in the field.
Though we all love the plethora of statistical data indicating employment numbers and capital investment when discussions focus on the relocation of large fish like Deloitte and Northrop Grumman, or the potential of the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, there is an important “something more.” It is the impact a job has on an individual household, which is the all-important rationale behind everything that falls under this banner. Without a personal face, we lose the significance of what all of this means.
In talking to Rick Weddle, president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Development Commission, it became clear that he likes to remind the staff and board that it is more than the grand strategic plans of business, technology or political titans that drive economic development – it is about enriching people’s lives, one job at a time.
Who’s In Charge Here?
This value was etched into Weddle’s memory early in his career when he was doing a site placement survey for a company he was trying to attract, on his first “tour of duty” in the Carolinas. Needing to substantiate that there was a skilled workforce available for employment, Weddle ran an ad including job descriptions in local newspapers explaining that if they could validate their employment base, the company would locate there. Weddle arrived at the hotel where they were taking applications beginning at 8 a.m., on a bitterly cold and drizzly Saturday morning.
“I was amazed to see people were already lined up from the banquet room, through the lobby of the hotel and halfway around the block!” Weddle recalled. “Our team quickly got set up to begin processing the applications and I looked up and saw a huge, rather intimidating man in line, dressed in coveralls staring at me. When our eyes met, the man got out of line and walked up to me and said, ‘I’d like to talk to whoever is in charge here.’ With a little trepidation, thinking the man was angered by the long line, I said, ‘I guess that would be me.’
“Then that man looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘I just want you to know how much we appreciate what you are doing to bring jobs here,’ then turned around and returned to his place in the line.”
The sense of personal dignity and worth, not to mention the opportunity for creativity and contribution, which comes from having a job, cannot be overemphasized. Though we have all groaned some mornings when the alarm sounds, few things are as debilitating as not having a job to go to or a paycheck, regardless of its size, to bring home.
Whether it is assisting a veteran who is leaving the military after spending most of his or her life defending our freedom, to a single parent trying to make a way for their children, or the young graduate with a diploma in hand moving into an unfamiliar world, the answer sometimes is simpler than we realize: a job. All it takes is to be without work and the phone not ringing with prospects for the unintended message “you’re not a valuable contributor” to infect a soul.