Writer: Jana Wiggins
The University of Georgia is helping local and state economic developers gain the knowledge they need to help their communities, regions and the state achieve economic success through its Georgia Certified Economic Developer program.
Introduced in 2016, the GCED program is the first of its kind in Georgia and is offered throughout the state by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. So far, the program has awarded certifications to nine Georgia developers.
The four most recent graduates — Tammy Caudell of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Bekki Fox with the City of Rome, Sadie Krawczyk with the City of Monroe and Matt Poyner of the Savannah Economic Development Authority — were recognized during the Georgia Economic Developers Association monthly luncheon Oct. 15 in Atlanta.
“We are proud to have developed this program in conjunction with the Georgia Economic Developers Association and appreciate all of the work you have done with our faculty to design a high-quality curriculum that will help the state and its communities compete in a global economy,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for public service and outreach at UGA. “The skills participants develop are Georgia-specific, based on Georgia law and issues, and can be put into practice immediately.”
Presenting the certificates with Frum were Jennifer Nelson, GCED program manager and Institute of Government faculty member, and Saralyn Stafford, UGA’s rural development manager and GEDA’s professional development chair.
Over half of Georgia’s 159 counties are represented in GCED courses already with more than 230 local and regional economic developers enrolled. In the two and a half years since the program began, over 30 courses have been offered at locations across the state, making the program accessible to all of Georgia’s economic development professionals.
“It’s a great program to give you a broad and an in-depth view of economic development and all the pieces that go into it, all the skill sets needed to do it well. It has connected me to people doing economic development but doing it in different sectors and in different ways,” said Krawczyk, who has served as the economic development specialist for the City of Monroe for the past six years overseeing industry and retail recruitment, downtown development and small business support programs.
“Through class discussion, activities and peer-to-peer learning, participants are able to implement what they learn in the class into their own communities or organizations quickly,” said Nelson, who teaches most of the GCED courses.
Poyner (UGA ’03), who joined the Savannah Economic Development Authority as the vice president of business development in early October after six years as the executive director of the Development Authority of the City of Milledgeville and Baldwin County, says hearing from his peers gave him new perspective and ideas he could take back to his own communities.
“Getting to know what other communities are doing and best practices that other communities are already doing successfully that I can use in my job, I think that’s a win-win for everybody,” said Poyner.
Peer-to-peer learning was also a key benefit of the GCED program for Caudell (UGA ’90), a senior project manager who covers 13 counties in the northeast corner of the state for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
“Hearing from communities outside of my region, those in southwest Georgia or on the Georgia coast, and learning about their strategies — that was incredibly beneficial to me,” Caudell said.
As the community development director for the City of Rome, Fox’s connection to economic development in her local community is different than that of many of her GCED program peers. With over 30 years of local government experience, 16 of which have been spent directly in community development, her job focuses on addressing housing needs and the redevelopment of distressed neighborhoods in Rome.
“I’m not directly involved in the day-to-day work with industry recruitment. But I, one-hundred percent, feel that for economic development you have to have good housing options for your workers — quality, affordable housing,” said Fox. “So I think community development and economic development are very closely tied together.”
Each recent graduate, including Fox, has come away with new ideas from the GCED coursework and the classroom dynamics that have created opportunities to do their jobs with refreshed purpose.
Fox says her city’s newly adopted slogan, “Rome is open for business,” has received buy-in from local commissioners and municipal departments. The one-stop shop idea she brought back from the GCED program is helping simplify permitting processes for business licenses, zoning and building inspections — all things that can be challenging for new business startups.
“I took away things I could put into place in my job — just those small takeaways that were great ideas but very easy, not expensive, but with a very big impact,” said Poyner.
He cites initiatives from peer developers in cities across the state, like Albany’s interactive website with videos of local industry plant manager interviews, Savannah’s one-page document created to help prospective industries connect with all of the city’s contacts for services like water and workforce training, and Thomasville’s use of creative industries to boost the local economy.
As a state and regional economic developer, Caudell says the capstone portfolio project she was required to complete at the conclusion of the GCED program broadened her view and helped her see the challenges and issues faced by her local counterparts.
“The capstone project — the way that we had to bring everything together at the end — it gave me a really good, big-picture view of economic development across the state of Georgia,” Caudell said. “It gave me a much better understanding of the local and community environments so that I could be a better influencer for my region.”
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.
Echoing the response of her class colleagues on the merits of the GCED program, Krawczyk said, “It’s worth the investment for professional and personal development, but it also will be a benefit to the organization you’re representing.”
For Fox, the knowledge she’s gained from the GCED courses has enhanced the relationship she has with other leaders in Rome. “I can be more helpful. And I have a seat at the table now with our local economic development team,” she said.
“I’ve learned that economic development is a very complicated field, and it encompasses so many things with so many people, so many partnerships and so many incentives, whether they are local or state,” said Fox. “And you have to have the right combination of all of that to make a deal work.”
For more information about the program and course registration, visit www.cviog.uga.edu/gced.