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Four state and local economic developers earn GA-specific certifications from UGA

The Georgia Certified Economic Development program offered by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute has produced five graduates since the fall of 2017 — with four of them completing their coursework together in May 2018

Writer: Jana Wiggins

For the newest quartet of graduates of the Georgia Certified Economic Developer (GCED) program from the University of Georgia (UGA), each of their key takeaways from the courses is unique. However, all are unanimous that the program is crucial for development professionals statewide.

Introduced in 2016, the GCED program is the first of its kind in Georgia and is offered throughout Georgia by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. The series of courses helps economic developers become certified in their field and gain the knowledge they need to help their communities, regions and the state achieve economic success.

The recent graduates, Jillian Bowen of the Development Authority of Peach County, Kyle Fletcher of the Thomaston-Upson County Industrial Development Authority, and Adela Kelley and Stephanie Scearce, both of the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), were recognized during the Georgia Economic Developers Association (GEDA) 2018 Spring Workshop on May 11 at Jekyll Island.

Institute of Government Director Laura Meadows, GEDA First Vice Chair Pat Merritt, GCED program manager and Institute of Government faculty member Jennifer Nelson and Saralyn Stafford, GEDA’s professional development chair, presented the certificates.

 “We designed the curriculum based on internationally-recognized competencies and extensive research of all 50 states,” said Nelson. “What makes this certification different is that it is specific to Georgia — based on Georgia law, practices and issues that a person who is involved in economic development in our state needs to know.”

More than half of Georgia’s 159 counties are represented in GCED courses already with over 230 local and regional economic developers as students. In the two years since the program began, almost 30 courses have been offered at locations across the state, making the program accessible to all of Georgia’s economic development professionals.

“It doesn’t matter if you are from a metro area or rural community. The information was presented in such a way that it could benefit any economic developer in the entire state,” said Fletcher, who has served as executive director of the Thomaston-Upson County Industrial Development Authority for the past six years.

As a regional project manager for GDEcD covering 15 counties in Northwest Georgia, Scearce concurs that hearing the same information as a group can help all of Georgia’s economic developers be more effective when working with business and industry prospects who are looking to locate or expand in Georgia.

“It’s really neat to be in the class together and learn the same topics and how they are applied differently in our respective roles as regional, state and local developers. It helps us to have a team approach,” said Scearce.

Each recent graduate says she has had her own set of revelations from the GCED coursework and the classroom dynamics that have created opportunities to do their jobs with clearer perspectives and new ideas.

“Through class discussion, activities and peer-to-peer learning, participants are able to put to work what they learn in the class and immediately find information to put into use in their own communities or organizations,” said Nelson, who teaches the majority of the classes.

Bowen, who has provided over 10 years of local economic development leadership as a project manager with the Development Authority of Peach County, experienced her own ‘aha moment’ through the GCED courses.

“Economic development isn’t an event…it’s a process,” said Bowen. “After years of thinking it was all about landing the shiny new project, the concept of a never-ending process hit me like a ton of bricks.”

For Kelley, a senior project manager at GDEcD in global commerce, her 17 years of economic development experience have given her the chance to view development through the various lenses of local, regional and state project work. She currently represents Georgia’s Region 7 of 13 counties, including the Augusta area where she got her start in the field.

Kelley says a fresh look into Georgia’s $60.8 billion tourism industry through a GCED course focused on the topic encouraged her to dig deeper into that potential resource for her region.

“[Tourism] is a big part of economic development in Georgia. So I really absorbed all the tourism information that I could,” said Kelley. “And I took it upon myself to look at every county I represent to discover what their golden opportunity could be in tourism.”

Even with an educational background in communications, Scearce noted how the GCED course on making powerful presentations had reshaped her approach when working with prospects.

“A lot of the information that we talk on [with economic development prospects] is very complex,” Scearce said. “Being able to tailor my presentations to the audience and what their personality traits are, and knowing before I go, has really helped me keep my messages on track and on target and to catch their attention.”

Bowen and Fletcher also gleaned critical takeaways from the GCED classes that they say can help their rural Georgia communities grow and become more efficient and business- and industry-friendly.

In her Peach County area, Bowen says extending partnerships like the ones she has with the Georgia Department of Labor and Central Georgia Technical College to host classes at the local workforce development center will be key. She plans to expand the partnership network to include the local Chamber of Commerce as the group continues to identify and develop programs that will benefit the local businesses and workforce.

Fletcher says the capstone portfolio project she was required to complete at the end of the GCED program has provided her local industrial development authority office in Thomaston-Upson County with a vital resource for instant information.

“I feel like it's kind of a ‘Bible’ for this office — a go-to guide. It really could help anybody walk in and get information on resources or various infrastructure issues for our community,” said Fletcher.

The curriculum, with rolling course schedules that allow participants to complete certification in as little as two years, includes 36 hours of core courses on critical topics like attracting and growing businesses, workforce development, and financing economic development and deal structuring. Participants also must complete 24 hours of specialized courses in industry knowledge or leadership development and the capstone portfolio project.

Larry Brooks, former executive director of the Walker County Development Authority, became the first economic development professional to successfully complete the full GCED curriculum in September 2017.

Scearce, summarizing the common sentiment among her fellow graduates on the value of the GCED program, said, “I think if someone is pursuing a career in economic development in the state of Georgia, this program is a must.”

For more information about the program and course registration, visit www.cviog.uga.edu/gced.