What every small town mayor needs to know about economic development

Liz Povar


Former Vice President for Business Expansion
Virginia Economic Development Partnership




What is the most important thing for a local elected official to keep in mind about economic development?
Economic development is a business driven decision, so at the end of the day, it’s all about where that company can make its profit. Businesses don’t come to communities because they like the community, or just because it’s beautiful. They come because it has a qualified workforce, the right real estate, the right market area for their product to be shipped, and they are able  to be successful through a stable business climate. Local elected officials always need to remember to talk about labor market area capabilities, not just their own town.

How do you help with that?
Our team is actually assigned to every region of the commonwealth; we have a staff person who’s available any time of day for a local elected official or local manager to ask us questions about where they can find resources or how we might recommend they position themselves in the market for a business. We want to be helpful and we’ve designated these people, our team, to be available to localities on a very regular basis. Our team members are out in the field weekly, they meet regularly with local and regional economic developers. My recommendation to elected officials is to get to know your local economic developer. He’s the person we primarily interact with, you’re talking with him about issues that affect your town or county’s health, let him know so we can come to the table and be helpful to you.

What is the one thing you wish local elected officials would do differently?
Have your elevator speech ready to go, so, when you have the opportunity to meet with a business client, whether it’s someone in your community or a new prospect visiting, you can say in three minutes or less the reason that company should grow in your community. It should be a very succinct elevator pitch, and everyone on town council or the board of supervisors and city council should be able to say the same thing. Secondly, I would also say to continue to reinvest in yourself, meaning in your community. Economic development doesn’t just happen. It happens because a community’s leaders took the time to learn what the strategy is, and invest the dollars that are needed to create a good workforce system, a good real estate solution, and a great economic development organization, and that takes time and money.

Do you want to hear from these folks and how do they get into contact with you?
Absolutely, we want to hear from local elected officials. We reach out, in addition to our economic developers, through Vego and VML. We are at those meetings and we would encourage local elected officials to also be there. You can interact with your peers, you can learn some trade secrets that way, and we’re there. In addition, they can call my staff who are reaching out to their economic developers, or they can call Virginia Economic Development Partnership, and just ask for Liz Povar.