Published May 2002

Economic development
is a community effort

Bob Templin is the kind of person that economic development people like to listen to because he’s experienced, candid, humorous and highly successful in economic development.

There are good reasons his ideas are worth studying. A Senior Fellow at the Morino Institute in Reston, Va., and a strategic adviser to the American Association of Community Colleges on the “new economy,” Templin formerly served as President of Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT).

During his tenure with the CIT, Templin was credited with helping to create or retain more than 12,000 high-tech jobs, attract or create more than 225 technology-based companies and increase company sales or new capital investment by more than $500 million.

He presented some of his successful ideas for developing a high-tech economy, and warnings about what not to do, at a recent program co-sponsored by the Snohomish County Economic Development Council and Edmonds Community College.

Among other insights about economic development, Templin said:

  • Communities need a core group of business and community leaders to work on economic development programs, not just politicians and economic development agencies, to create the right environment to attract high-tech and biotech businesses.
  • Economic development and re-development also need a “champion,” one person who can motivate the community and business leaders, someone who isn’t afraid of “knocking a few heads together” if necessary to get everyone moving effectively in the same direction.
  • There also has to be a sense of community “crisis” — such as the loss of Boeing jobs or the fear of losing new projects, such as Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser.
  • Communities that simply try to duplicate the successes of other parts of the country will not succeed. The only real successes come from understanding the unique assets and benefits of each community, then promoting those “main strengths” in long-term programs to attract new industries, jobs and technologies.

Success will also create a new set of problems, such as more traffic and a lack of affordable housing, Templin said, but “the question is not whether you will have problems … (it’s) what kind of problems do you want to deal with.”

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