Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.

 

November 2008
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Archive for November 8th, 2008

All alone?

Every job can make you feel a little like the Maytag repairman. All alone with no one to talk to. OK, in economic development there are probably no shortages of people to talk to but even then you can still wind up feeling all alone as most of the people you work with or serve won’t necessarily share or understand your unique vantage point.

So what do you do? Well the first and most obvious answer is to become a member of organizations that are made up of members unique to your profession. In my case that meant being a member of the Wisconsin Economic Development Association. 500 people from around the state who were in the ED field. WEDA had three conferences a year and I attended each without fail for many years. But I recommend going beyond just attending conferences. I also served three terms on the Board of Directors and at various times I chaired the education, membership and technology committees. (They even let me be state president for a year. Now THAT was a learning experience.)

But don’t stop there. Get together with your area counterparts at other times as well. My mentor, Bob Fleming, was my area representative from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce and he would call up every month or so and offer to meet me for lunch in a nearby community. He always invited one or two other folks from surrounding counties as well. Efficient for him and great for us. We could discuss issues with folks who were going through the same things we were and build some good friendships as well. We called these ‘Summit’ meetings. A wonderfully pretentious title for a totally relaxed and comfortable gathering. The one that I was a part of started with just three people and over time grew to a group of 10-15.

I learned a lot from those gatherings. I found people I could share my problems with. I found solutions to problems I was facing. And I could say things out loud that I couldn’t say anywhere else and I could say them to people who really understood where I was coming from. I learned about resources that were sometimes right under my nose but I had missed. (I didn’t know they provided that!) I was reminded that my problems and the issues I faced weren’t really that unique. Others had faced them before me and more importantly, had found ways to successfully address them. 

But most of all, I learned that I wasn’t alone.