Economic Development Week: Advice and Insight from the 40 Under 40 Class of 2023

May 05, 2023

May 8-12 is National Economic Development Week across the United States and Canada, and Development Counsellors International is celebrating the occasion.

The initiative, founded by the International Economic Development Council, provides an opportunity for professionals in the industry to share the great work they have been doing in their communities and gives them a platform to create and advance career opportunities. To commemorate this tradition, DCI reached out to a few individuals who we know are making a big impact on the people and communities around them.

A few months after accepting their awards, the 40 Under 40 class of 2023 shared with us what value they believe the 40 Under 40 Award, and the recognition that comes with it, adds to the industry and what advice they have for those who might be new to the world of economic development. Hear some words of wisdom from a few of our winners:

Alia Abbas
Economic Development Office, City of Toronto and CEO & Founder, Alia Consulting

What value do you believe the 40 Under 40 recognition adds to the economic development industry?

  • The world of economic development is built on recognition and through recognition, one feels not alone when doing the behind-the-scenes work. The work we do in economic development is quite unique and, the majority of the time, very secretive. From working with prospective clients to partnering with new companies interested in locating to our community to the products that some of these companies show us on our site tours, this award highlights all the hard work we do for the industry. It also shows the value of bringing diverse and young professionals who can bring creative, out-of-the-box thinking to your community.

What advice do you have for other young, aspiring leaders?

  • The advice I have for aspiring leaders is to create your own opportunities and always look to where your unique personality and skills can benefit a community. Always be YOU-NIQUE! There is only one of you and that’s your specialty. Nobody else can be the economic developer you inspire to be.

Steven Anthony
Executive Director of Business Development / Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, MO

  • The 40 under 40 recognition brings tremendous value as it highlights those that are bringing fresh, diverse and innovative approaches to economic development. This is an industry that typically operates behind the scenes to help communities truly grow and thrive, so this recognition helps to shine a spotlight on those future leaders that are at the forefront of that work.
  • My advice to other young, aspiring leaders is to continue to push the envelope and be creative when coming up with solutions that help the communities that we serve. Economic development does not, and should not, operate like it did 30 years ago, so our rising leaders should bring their diverse and innovative experiences to the table to set the stage for the next 30 years.

J.R. Charles
Community Development Director / The City of Mauldin, South Carolina

  • The recognition from DCI has allowed me to connect with other influential leaders in the economic development world. Additionally, it brings a level of legitimacy, recognition, and validation to my work as an economic developer. I plan to use this recognition in my self-branding efforts.
  • This advice is more pragmatic than inspirational: find a good employment contract that you can use as a starting point for any employment opportunities. Most economic organizations exist as a public agency or a non-profit organization, and many are governed by a board of directors or public body. The makeup of those boards can change quickly, or the top-level leadership of an organization can change suddenly. In those cases, a good contract will give protection, assurance, and recourse that will shield you from unexpected difficulties.

Joe Sobieralski
President & CEO / Battle Creek Unlimited

  • It builds an awareness that economic development is a viable and rewarding career pathway for younger generations to explore. It is not just an end-of-career pathway.
  • Be patient, listen, absorb, but also listen to your gut and craft your own unique identity and solutions based upon your experiences. When a door or window cracks open, don’t wait for it to fully open before jumping through it! Take calculated risks.

David Rodgers, CEcD
Vice President of Economic Development / Mobile Chamber

  • The 40 Under 40 recognition is a great way to promote the various accomplishments of young professionals in the economic development industry. It also helps promote the profession to other young professionals who may be interested in economic development by highlighting the impact the recipients have on their communities.
  • bEconomic development is a relationship business. It is important to cultivate relationships across all areas of the economic development industry.

Shannon Landauer
President & CEO / Iowa Lakes Corridor

  • I believe that the award brings awareness to the profession and professionals. Economic development is not always well understood, but when individuals and organizations are recognized for their efforts, it is an opportunity to elevate their position locally and beyond.
  • Show up, be at meetings, meet new people, build relationships, get engaged in projects and communities. Economic development success happens with strong teams—learn to be a team player so you can be a strong team leader. Be patient!

Jayson Newell
Senior Director, Business Development / Baton Rouge Area Chamber

  • Economic development professionals across the country do important work that has a huge impact on their respective communities. This award recognizes some of those professionals that are working hard to bring about positive change. The award also shows the breadth of the industry, including recipients at every level. From city/town to parish/county, to region, to state – there are a number of fantastic people and organizations across the board that push the industry forward.
  • Find someone to learn from – supervisor, colleague, partner – a mentor that can teach you more than just your day-to-day responsibilities.

Donnie Miller
Sr. Director of Business Recruitment, Life Sciences and Technology / Baton Rouge Area Chamber

  • The 40 Under 40 recognition adds weight to the work we are doing in our individual communities. It highlights the hard work and success each of our teams has achieved. It also amplifies our industry and shows that young talent can make an impact even if it is early in our careers.
  • I recommend looking at the profession from as many angles as possible. Not just the potential salary; but rather, who are we helping and how the work will impact our families, friends and our children’s generation.

For more information on the Economic Development 40 Under 40 Awards, contact @[email protected]. The nomination period for the 2025 awards will open in the fall of 2024.

Julie Curtin headshot
Written by

Julie Curtin

President, Economic Development Practice