Local & Regional Economic Development

Professionals in economic development attempt to strengthen local economies, in terms of both growth and equity. They frequently work to redress problems of local and regional economic distress, unemployment, and poverty, as well as to secure the resources vital to providing essential public services, including affordable housing, parks, schools and transportation infrastructure.

The field of economic development currently stands at a crossroads. Old approaches to development, which emphasized tax reductions for businesses and competition between places, are being displaced by policies that favor investment in people. A contemporary approach to local economies pairs the necessary work of market a city and luring investors with investments in job-training, housing, public services and human development.

Today, best practice in economic development begins by understanding the factors that drive economic growth and change in a particular region. Where economists once viewed natural resources and investments in manufacturing capacity as the key to regional economic health, scholars and practitioners alike increasingly favor investments in people. Today, measures as diverse as the $15 minimum wage, public health efforts to mitigate the catastrophe of opioid addiction and programs mandating free higher education are spreading rapidly. They find favor with both the public and elected officials, who understand that the economy thrives when all society’s members can contribute to their fullest capacity.

This leaves a diverse and often experimental agenda in economic development today. Current areas of focus include innovation policy, makers and entrepreneurship, universal public goods, criminal justice reform and legalization (of gambling, sports better, marijuana, etc.). Professionals approach these new areas with older tools that remain useful, such as the analysis of industries, occupations and jobs; workforce development programs that bring together employers and job-seekers; and entrepreneurship programs that attempt to increase the supply of new and creative businesses.

LRED Career Paths

Career paths of LRED graduates may overlap with related fields such as community development, housing, and transportation.

Professional Track or Focus Types of Hiring Agencies & Organizations
Economic analyst, strategic planner Regional planning organizations, state development agencies, regional Federal Reserve banks, consultancies, supra-regional organizations (e.g., Appalachian Regional Commission, Tennessee Valley Authority), federal agencies (e.g., U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Management and Budget, Congressional Budget Office), industry associations, university extension programs, and non-profit advocacy organizations.
Community economic developer Community organizations, labor unions, county and municipal government
Local economic developer County and municipal government, chambers of commerce, state development agencies, and regional development agencies and organizations.
Policy analyst Think tanks, universities, advocacy organizations, state, local and county government.
Development finance specialist County and municipal governments, state development agencies, community development corporations (CDCs), venture capital firms, and consultancies.
International development specialist Federal agencies, consultancies, international organizations (e.g., World Bank, USAID, International Monetary Fund). Note: These positions often require substantial advanced training in economics or finance, or joint degree training in planning/business, planning/law, or planning/economics.
Workforce development specialist State employment security agencies, local workforce development boards, federal agencies, consultancies, and community colleges.

LRED Faculty

Faculty contributing courses especially relevant to local and regional economic development include Mary Edwards (state and local finance, healthy cities), Marc Doussard (work, innovation policy, social movements, entrepreneurship), and Craig Rost (local policy and practice).

LRED Course Recommendations

The following are a set of recommended course tracks or suggested substantive specializations for MUP students with slightly varying professional interests within the economic development field. Two courses form the core of the economic development planning offerings at UIUC: UP 407 (State and Local Public Finance) and UP 545 (Economic Development Policy and Practice). A specialized curriculum can be built by adding additional courses in various theoretical, methodological, and substantive areas.

Recommendation Number Course

UP 407
UP 545

State and Local Public Finance
Economic Development Policy and Practice


UP 418
UP 475
UP 519

GIS for Planners
Real Estate Development Fundamentals
Advanced Applications of GIS


UP 473
FIN 444
FIN 445
ACE 411
UP 481

Housing & Urban Policy
Urban Real Estate Valuation
Real Estate Investment
Environment and Development
Urban Communities and Public Policy

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