The best economic development leaders are driven by a passion for people, not profit, says Ron Kitchens, CEO of Southwest Michigan First in our interview. For this regional economic development chief, place branding and economic development are much closer connected than some might think.
Ron serves as the chief executive officer of Southwest Michigan First, a cluster of privately funded economic development advisors who act as catalysts for economic growth. He is also the co-founder of the Engage Conference, an invitation-only leadership symposium for global economic leaders.
- How economic development is connected to place branding;
- How jobs can be an attractive component in building a community;
- Why one of the best resources for success is having the right people;
- How to measure the success of economic development initiatives;
- His professional insights as CEO of Southwest Michigan First.
Ron, what made you realize that “the greatest force for change is a job”?
“The greatest force for change is a job” is my passion; it is what I have built my life around and I vividly remember a conversation that clarified it within me.
I began my career in business and had a very successful run. During my time in business, I was blessed with a banker that mentored me, on financial management, cash flow, accounting for future liabilities, the behind the board room door issues, and helped me plan growth strategies. Which are all great things; however, after what was supposed to be an accomplished day of acquiring another business unit he [the banker] looked at me and said, “Ron, you care more about jobs than you do about profit,” I thought “finally, he gets me.” He did not mean it as a compliment, and he went on to say “we need you to focus on the profit and hire fewer people.”
This is where the fundamental disconnect became apparent. I believed I was put here to grow as many jobs as possible, to employ people. I could not find happiness with profit being solely the bottom line; I needed a bottom line that brought a deeper impact to people. And clearly, it is what I am hard wired to achieve.
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