Developing Success

Economic Development Academy helps communities transform
Group photo of participants in UNH Cooperative Extension's Economic Development Academy

Transforming a city is a group effort: The more people who participate, the greater the success. That's the lesson David Brooks, planning and zoning director for Lebanon, New Hampshire, learned at Extension's Economic Development Academy (EDA) — and put into practice for a 2016 downtown visioning study.

"We reached out to community members, stakeholders, business owners, property owners, nonprofits and other institutions to find out what we should be striving for in our downtown," says Brooks. Using meetings, surveys, and posters where people could share their "wish list" for downtown, Brooks collected almost 800 comments.

Brooks says the study will guide development for Lebanon over the next 10, 20, and 30 years. That the ideas recorded in it are derived from the public will be helpful in supporting the decision-making process.

Brooks credits his participation in EDA with helping to bring the visioning study to fruition. He's not alone — more than 60 economic development professionals in New Hampshire have gone through the EDA since it began four years ago.

"It's practice-based," says Charlie French, Community and Economic Development program leader for Extension. "Participants dive deep into specific content areas. By the time they leave, they have a project to present to the rest of the class."

Some of those efforts make a splash in the real world. Projects big and small — from a massive downtown revitalization project in Somersworth to an overhaul of the city's permitting process in Rochester — got a boost from intensive EDA sessions. This year, EDA is expanding its scope beyond New Hampshire. Economic development professionals from throughout New England will take part in the 2017 course.

"We want to give communities some best practices and help them move forward," French says.

In Exeter, economic development director Darren Winham used his 2015 EDA experience to bolster a large-scale economic development initiative. Even with a dozen years of experience, Winham credits the EDA with helping him find new approaches.

"You don’' just learn about the different tools that New Hampshire and the Northeast offer. You meet the contacts you need," he says. "It's a really thorough program that brings in fantastic professionals with great credibility."

This story originally appeared in the 2017 edition of Radius.