Economic Development News & Insight


As part of our Featured Contributor series, I recently interviewed Michelle Madden to find out more about her work. Check out Michelle’s posts as well as the Higher ED series, which Michelle helped to create.

Michelle MaddemTell me how you first got involved in economic development? How long have you been in the field? Where are you now?

My introduction to economic development was through my hometown’s volunteer economic development committee. Over two summers, I completed research on the community’s tourism assets and appetite for public water and sewer infrastructure. I went on a different path after high school, but then got back to economic development when I was accepted in the University of Waterloo’s master’s program in local economic development in 2011. It provided me with a great overview of the theoretical and practical sides of the field.

Since graduating in 2012, I have remained at UWaterloo working to improve marketing, communications and enrollment for the master’s program and Economic Development Professional Program. I like to think that I’m modernizing both programs by bringing them online. I’ve done a lot of work on their social media and web presence, and I’ve also created online options for seminars and student research dissemination.

In the future I would like to work in a more typical economic development role where I get to work with communities and people more directly.

What areas of economic development are you most interested in right now?

My heart will always be in rural economic development. As an extension of that, tourism, youth retention & attraction, telecommuting, and small business support are very interesting to me as strategies to strengthen small and remote places.

Tell me about someone who has influenced your work in economic development?

My biggest influence so far is probably my graduate supervisor, Clare Mitchell. She is an expert on rural development and introduced me to the academic work on migration. Growing up in Nova Scotia, a province with a large diaspora, outmigration was a constant reality and I was always curious about its drivers. Once I started studying economic development, I wanted to explore the phenomenon of “counterurbanization”, which is the migration of people down the urban hierarchy (urban to rural), and find out if it could be harnessed in a strategic way. After completing research on counterurbanite business owners in Nova Scotia, I’ve since written two blogs for on youth outmigration and expatriate attraction.

How has contributing to impacted you?

The blogs I just mentioned have been posted for more than a year and until recently, they were a way to share my ideas in a wide-reaching but passive way. Then a few months ago, I was contacted by the Michigan Rural Council with an invitation to be a keynote speaker at the Michigan Small Town and Rural Development Conference. I discovered that one of the board members found my article “Expatriate Attraction: Economic Development for Ugly Towns” while Googling expatriate attraction and thought the information would be valuable to share. I accepted their invitation and I was really pleased with the experience and feedback.  At least one conference participant told me that she was going to initiate an attraction strategy. Without, it is unlikely that the Council would have found me and given me that opportunity.

What do you think will change about economic development over the next five to ten years?

I’m not sure what the future will look like but I hope to see more young people enter the field. My peers are having trouble finding entry-level jobs in economic development, which is a shame because I think they have lots of energy and innovative, fresh ideas to contribute.

Can you give an example of the innovative, fresh ideas young people in/just out of the program have to contribute in the field?

I think their biggest asset is that they are inspired. They have just learned about all of the trends (successful or not) that have swept economic development in the last 50+ years, they have read academic papers, pored over case studies, gone on field trips, and picked the brains of economic development professionals. They have loads of ideas and they have the energy to put their ideas in action. On top of that, if they’re new to the field then they are not discouraged by years of working with difficult stakeholders. Sometimes it takes the gusto of youth to shake things up and get an ambitious project off the ground.

What’s the most interesting economic development related book or blog you’ve read recently?

I was recently given a stack of books on rural development, but unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to read them yet!  Hopefully I’ll have books to recommend in a few months. In the meantime, I read a fascinating article on The Atlantic recently about money “buying” years of life. This doesn’t happen in a literal sense, but the author dug into some research on income-to-life expectancy and found that each additional $15,000 of household income “buys” an extra year of life. When we use economic development to increase incomes and the availability of good jobs, we actually extend people’s lives and well-being!

What do you do when you aren’t working?

Despite my rural roots, I’m currently enjoying the urban lifestyle that living in downtown Kitchener allows. I’m an avid foodie, gym-goer, and patio-lover and I can reach all of my usual haunts on foot. I’m also catching up on a lot of great TV shows thanks to Netflix.

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