Industry Spotlight - Economic Development & Planning

Max Backlund is a Business Development Manager at EDCUtah and a holds a Masters Degree in City and Metropolitan Planning and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Utah. For more information about economic development plans or business development activity at EDCUtah contact Max at

Often the description of the job of an economic developer may seem daunting, especially when considering your own city’s specific economic plan and the execution of it. However, defining specific measurable goals for your own economic development plan can not only aid your objectives, but also help you to keep in perspective the importance of your job as an economic developer.

 “I chose a career in economic development based on my experiences living in Argentina and working with people there who didn’t have the same opportunities that I have,” says Max Backlund, a Business Development Manager at EDCUtah.  “It was an eye-opening experience because I worked with people who worked much harder than I did, just to keep food on the table . . . After I returned I wanted a career where I could empower people to reap the rewards of hard work, and economic development offers me the chance to make that happen. At the end of my career, I believe the people I have helped will be the ultimate measure of what I’ve done.”

The importance of the people should be at the forefront of all that we do as economic developers. Backlund’s experience in Argentina has allowed him to keep proper perspective in his purpose behind planning and achieving economic goals, and hopefully this reminds us all of the purpose of an economic plan. Fortunately, Backlund has also provided his insight into the key principles in creating an economic plan.

“Bloated, general plans lead to poor community involvement, organizational paralysis, and a disconnection between economic growth and economic empowerment for community members,” Backlund suggests.  To create better economic development plans he offers four steps:

  1. Build a vision. Your vision should be something you are always able to come back to. Who are you as a community and what do you want to accomplish? “This vision should be broad and simply-stated because it is meant to unify the citizens of your community with a common purpose and goal,” Backlund explains. It connects to your community identity and becomes your driving force behind what you want to accomplish. Backlund continues that “Once planners establish a unifying vision it should be communicated clearly and early through the planning process, so it can be effectively tied to each goal and objective.”  
  2. Learn from the best. There’s nothing wrong with learning from other communities that have similar goals. By learning from the mistakes and successes of others you are able to catalyze the changes you want to make. “Learning from established best practices will save a lot of time and effort, and help you to understand how much time will be required to accomplish your goals,” Backlund states. “It also helps planners to understand the full range of economic development tools available to them, including ways those can be applied to greater effect.”
  3. Preparation is the key. “In terms of creating an economic development plan, preparation is the process of thinking through the time and effort that will be required to accomplish your key objectives,” proposes Backlund. “Timelines are important because they force you to be practical . . . and helps planners to clarify expectations for the amount of effort required to carry out the plan.” Accountability is therefore increased because there are clear expectations about what needs to be accomplished.
  4. Simplify, simplify, simplify. More than anything else, simplifying your economic development strategy is key. “A simple, clear vision is more effective as a unifying force because it can be communicated easily,” emphasizes Backlund. “A simple plan is an effective plan. A simple plan is the answer to the complexities of economic development.”

Backlund concludes: “These four steps are part of a continuous cycle that will generate better plans and results for both the community-at-large and individual members. Economic developers and planners should not feel that they have to do it all, but what they do, they should do well. At the end of the day, the key is to remember that our industry serves the people of our community. Our guiding principle is to make their lives better.”

Remember, it's all about the people. 

EDCUtah Tue, 10/11/2016 - 11:25