ECU announces Economic Development Academy

Initiative tailors programs around local needs

East Carolina University officials today unveiled plans to create an academy that will offer customized economic development training and certifications to elected officials, business leaders and personnel of economic development offices.

The program, which coincides with ECU’s Rural Prosperity Initiative, will partner with other North Carolina universities, community colleges and nonprofit organizations in equipping communities with the knowledge and skills needed to create jobs, recruit and retain businesses, boost wages and attract economic investment.

“The Economic Development Academy will harness expertise from our campus and others, as well as know-how from nonprofit and other partners, to bring 21st century prosperity to communities eager to embrace it,” ECU Chancellor Cecil P. Staton said. “The leadership at East Carolina University includes some of the best minds in the economic development field and will prove pivotal in helping the economies of counties and towns throughout North Carolina and beyond.”

Last fall, Staton announced a first-ever effort to harness the collective resources of ECU’s colleges, schools, centers, institutes and partners for a Rural Prosperity Initiative that aims to identify solutions to the significant health, educational and economic disparities in less populous North Carolina communities. Last month, ECU and SAS announced they will join forces to help rural areas address these challenges. Using analytics and data visualization, ECU and SAS will work together to support the Rural Prosperity Initiative and develop a new generation of technologies, micro-businesses and strategies to boost the quality of life in rural North Carolina.

“The Economic Development Academy is the latest incarnation of ECU’s long and proud tradition of economic engagement for the benefit of underserved North Carolina towns and counties,” said Jay Golden, vice chancellor for research, economic development and engagement at ECU.

Golden, whose division is leading the Rural Prosperity Initiative, believes the Economic Development Academy’s programs not only could move the economic needle for North Carolina communities, but also serve as a replicable model for university-based economic transformation programs around the country.

“Though urban migration has been a reality since the Industrial Revolution, 46 million Americans continue to live in rural communities, and their poverty rates are three times those of metropolitan areas. It’s time higher education commits itself to reversing these disparities,” Golden said.

ECU officials will organize expertise from other UNC System campuses and the North Carolina Community College System in shaping and offering instructional programs around “place-based” economic development – strategies and solutions that are customized around the unique needs, assets and opportunities of a specific county, town or city. For example, an “honors seminar” will tailor one-day sessions for local government and elected officials around unique community realities. The idea was tested last year with leaders in Granville County.

“Nothing our academy attempts to do replicates any services or programs currently available,” said Ted Morris, ECU’s associate vice chancellor for innovation and economic development. Morris and his colleagues surveyed university-based outreach efforts around the country and researched various models for extending economic development resources into community settings. “In North Carolina and other states, there’s an untapped demand for assistance in crafting high-quality, realistic, place-based economic development solutions,” he said.

ECU’s academy also intends to create a certification program for economic development professionals in the state. Morris and others hope to offer credentialing to the staffs of local economic development organizations that enhances the prospects for success in their careers, organizations and communities. The academy plans to offer classes in legal, financial, ethical and other aspects of local economic development in a format that is practical and accessible.

“Most economic developers in North Carolina enter the profession with solid business and leadership credentials,” said Charles Hayes, senior fellow in residence at ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development. “What they often lack is timely, relevant training on the technical, practical specifications of their communities and the job creators who would be successful there.” A credentialing program that is accessible would go far in boosting the effectiveness of new arrivals into the economic development field.

ECU’s Economic Development Academy hopes to partner with other educational providers in North Carolina both for curriculum development, instructional design and facility space. The program will be administered by ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development. The university’s Office of Continuing Education will oversee enrollment management.

Officials also expect private nonprofit entities to partner with the academy. In December, the board of directors of the North Carolina Economic Development Association voted unanimously to approve a resolution of support for the program.

“By offering specialized training and instruction to volunteers and elected officials, the Economic Development Academy at ECU will support not just our profession but also the overall economic development process in North Carolina,” NCEDA President Steve Yost said. “I see this as a critical piece of leadership development that can strengthen the state’s competitiveness.”

Hayes, who was formerly president and CEO of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, expects other partners will similarly create synergies for the academy. “This is a pioneering endeavor for North Carolina and it’s designed to serve the entire state,” he said. “To rise to the challenge of giving all our communities a shot at meaningful progress will require a big team working in an orchestrated way. The university’s role will be assembling, tuning and conducting the orchestra.”

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