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Column: What exactly does the EDC director do?

ESCANABA — The close of September marked the completion of my first year with the Delta County Economic Development Alliance (EDA). During those 12 months I’ve received one reoccurring question from family, friends, neighbors and strangers; “What exactly do you do?” The question comes as no surprise as most work of any community’s economic development organization happens behind the scenes, supporting the development initiatives of our local businesses, governments and entrepreneurs. If you yourself are wondering on the role of the EDA in our community, read on!

First of all, what is an economic development organization (EDO)? Every prosperous community has one, but no two are exactly alike. At its most basic level, an EDO is an entity that works to enhance the prosperity of the community it serves. The type of work can vary widely, and typically includes helping assist entrepreneurs with their businesses, helping existing companies grow and attracting new companies/investment; Retention, Expansion and Attraction.

EDOs can be structured in many different ways, typically based on their funding sources. In our case, in 1993 regional stakeholders, both public and private, identified a need for one single resource focused on economic development throughout all of Delta County. Their answer was the creation of a public/private, non-profit entity called the Delta County EDA. Since then, the organization has been a champion throughout all communities in Delta County by assisting thousands of businesses start-up, relocate or expand here. The organization is governed by a well-rounded board of directors including city managers, county commissioners and local industry leaders throughout education, manufacturing, workforce development, law, finance, utilities and more. The work of the EDA is only possible through continued investment by local governments, private businesses and grant opportunities.

Perhaps what the Delta County EDA is best known for by the public is our collaboration with local partners. That reputation begins with our proud membership in the Delta County Commerce Center organizations. This best practice coalition includes the Delta County Chamber of Commerce, Visit Escanaba, U.P. State Fair, Builder’s Exchange and EDA. The partnership encourages shared resources toward one common goal of community growth by bringing world class events, tourists, business and investment to our waterfront community.

With a better understanding of what the EDA is, you may still be asking, “TJ, what do YOU do?” On a daily basis, I act as “boots on the ground” for our regional economy by connecting with local businesses in a confidential nature. By forming relationships based on trust, I am able to keep my finger on the pulse of what affects our business’s bottom line and their ability to grow. (ie. cost of doing business, workforce challenges, housing opportunities for existing and targeted employees, infrastructure, etc). With this knowledge I can connect them with the existing resources in my playbook to assist. I also use this knowledge to provide feedback to community leadership and engage with them to build and implement stronger development strategies for our community.

In short, I connect dots. I celebrate the victories of our local business community. I promote Delta County as an incredible place to live, work and play. I look for growth opportunities of Delta County industry and chances to attract new investment that enhances our community. I work on behalf of Delta County citizens and employers to promote a more favorable business climate and exceptional quality of life. And best yet, I truly enjoy what I do!

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TJ Thomas is executive director of the Delta County Economic Development Alliance

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