06 May Economic Development Week 2019: What is economic development, anyway?
Economic development is a big umbrella that encompasses policymaking and programming, business finance, marketing, neighborhood development, business retention and expansion, technology transfer, and real estate development.
Today we’re sitting down with WithersRavenel Senior Technical Consultant and Certified Economic Developer Jenny Mizelle to talk about what economic development is, who is involved, and what success looks like.
WithersRavenel: Let’s start off with a little bit about you. What’s your background, and how did you get involved in economic development?
Jenny Mizelle: I graduated from Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies/Affairs. After college, I held management positions at a couple of different community development and mortgage banking companies. In 1996, I was hired as the Director of Community Development for the Town of Holly Springs. A couple of years later we created the position of Economic Development and I transitioned into that role. My professional development includes earning my CEcD, the Certified Economic Developer designation in 2006, and in 2014 I graduated with the class of Leadership North Carolina XXI.
WR: How long were you with the Town of Holly Springs, and what did you work on as Director of Economic Development?
JM: I worked in Holly Springs for two decades. During that time my colleague, Irena Krstanovic, and I initiated many programs and activities to increase and diversify the tax base with accompanying job creation and support for existing industries and small business and entrepreneurship.
WR: Those are some pretty ambitious goals! What were the outcomes of these efforts?
JM: I’m most proud of our successful recruitment of what was then known as Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, now Seqirus, a state-of-the-art vaccine manufacturing facility. And we also celebrated home-grown victories, such as when brothers Jon and Chris Harol opened the Co-Working Station downtown in partnership with the Town. During my tenure we had hits and misses and were passionate about our role in improving the economy of Holly Springs.
WR: How did you make the transition from public service to private consulting?
JM: Having spent 20 years “inside the tent” of local economic development at the municipal level, I figured I had a pretty good idea of how economic development works and why! I wanted to take what I’d learned and share that experience with other communities and organizations, so in 2016 I founded The Town Builders Consulting Group to provide consulting services in the areas of economic development and planning. In 2017, I came onboard with WithersRavenel and started offering those same services to their public and private clients.
WR: Can you share some of the groups you’ve worked with?
JM: Right now, I’m focused on the Cape Fear Region. Some of the team members that I have the pleasure of working with include North Carolina’s Southeast Regional Economic Development Partnership, Wilmington Business Development, Brunswick Industrial Development, Cape Fear Commercial Real Estate Women, and NC Ports. I also partner with statewide companies that focus on economic development as well such as Duke Energy. We are also providing economic development and engineering consulting to the Town of Troy and Wayne County Development Alliance.
WR: What’s it like partnering with these organizations?
JM: I am seeing economic development in action from a different perspective, as just one of the many allies that partner to strengthen the economies of communities statewide. I am impressed—but not surprised—with how strong and effective the system is that facilitates economic development. Every time I turn around there’s another group gathering to support economic development in one way or another: Downtown Wilmington Inc. functions, Wilmington Business Journal, Wilmington Chamber, and various State of the Region programs, to name a few.
WR: Economic development is definitely a team effort. Do you have help here at WithersRavenel?
JM: Absolutely. Our economic development team includes our Vice President of Land Development, Jason Bertoncino, and Vice President of Management and Transformation Services, Jessica Martin-Lane. We also get support from Alice Briggs and Amanda Whitaker, two funding and finance experts who work with Jessica.
WR: What’s the most significant thing you’ve learned during your time in economic development?
JM: I have seen the level of professionalism and teamwork and passion that it takes to bring jobs and an increase in tax base to towns and counties. It’s rewarding to see how many dedicated individuals are willing to collaborate to better their communities, and that includes everyone that has a stake in their communities, including elected officials, public sector leaders, and private sector partners. Kudos to all of you this during #EconDevWeek 2019 and every day, every year.
WR: I couldn’t agree more! Thank you, Jenny, for taking the time to share with us during Economic Development Week.
Photo credit: Cape Fear CREW / Will Page Photography