By Eli Dile, with IEDC
The ringing in of each new year brings new leadership to IEDC’s board of directors. Craig Richard, CEcD, FM, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation in Florida, will serve as IEDC’s board chair in 2018. Richard recently spoke to ED Now about his priorities for the organization in 2018 and discussed public perceptions of economic development. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ED Now: What are you looking forward to in 2018?
Richard: First of all, I’m looking forward to taking the reins as chair of IEDC. I’m very honored and humbled to be selected to lead this organization. There have been some very capable chairs that have preceded me, and it is my hope and goal to continue the positive momentum the profession has experienced with IEDC’s support.
I’m pleased to see that economic development now is on the tips of most elected officials’ tongues in one way or another. That’s still relatively new; 20 years ago, no one was campaigning on economic development. Today, it’s a common platform. I’m excited about what IEDC has been able to do for the profession over the years, and I look forward to continuing to raise its profile.
How did you begin your career in economic development?
I got started in economic development in graduate school while pursuing a master’s in urban and regional planning. I had a professor who introduced me to the economic development portion of planning, which was really eye-opening. From that moment on, I came to realize it doesn’t matter what beautiful plans you have written, if there’s no economic development component in place, those plans are useless. That experience sparked my interest in economic development, and it’s been strong ever since.
What are your priorities as board chair in 2018?
Economic developers across the county have been inundated with a rising negative sentiment about their work. We’re often portrayed as picking winners and losers and engaging in corporate welfare. It’s a sentiment that has been fueled by a narrative that we, unfortunately, have not been adequately able to participate in. And when we do participate, we’re usually forced to be on the defensive. We’re constantly trying to defend economic development programs, but we’re not getting across what these programs really achieve for a community. That’s why we need to go on the offense.
My priority for this coming year is to arm economic developers with a narrative that counters these negative perceptions about our profession. We’re going to create a toolkit for economic developers to use in their communities that helps highlight the benefits of economic development programs and touts the value of our work. We need to take control of this narrative and properly explain why economic development is important. This toolkit will draw a clear line between our actions and the creation of good jobs, livable wages, and prosperity. Hopefully we can turn the tide on what we’re seeing nationally as an anti-economic development sentiment.
What do you like most about your job?
In many respects, I don’t even look at it as a job. To me, it’s more of a calling. You get to do something for a city that no one else really sees or understands. We’re kind of working behind the curtain, if you will, and we don’t get the glory or the praise for helping communities grow and expand. We’re just quietly doing our job so that people can put food in the refrigerator and a car in the driveway and send their kids to college. But I wake up every day knowing that what we do is for a greater purpose. That’s what gets me excited about my job and keeps me going. I don’t have to set an alarm clock because I wake up excited about what I do and the results we deliver for our community.
Can you share a fun fact about yourself most people might not know?
Most of my close friends know I’m an avid outdoorsman. I love to be outside, and enjoy all the activities associated with it, whether it’s fishing or golf or hunting. Those are some of my passions, and they help recharge my batteries. But I’m sure a lot of folks don’t know I’m an avid hunter, and a bow hunter in particular. I’m originally from Texas, where the start of deer season is a school holiday, so that helps explain that.