Gene DePrez on Economic Development, Place Branding and Competitive City Regions

Gene DePrez in this interview reflects on his more than 30 years of experience advising some of the world’s leading organizations and city-regions on economic development. The former leader of global business location and economic strategy practices for PwC and IBM Global Services talks about place branding and economic development in times of increasing competition between city-regions to attract investment and talent. 

Learn about:

  • The role of place branding in the economic positioning of cities and regions;
  • How place branding can support the sustainable development of cities;
  • Differences between advising cities in the US and the UK;
  • Advice to early career economic development consultants.

Gene, with your expertise in advising some of the world’s leading organizations (IBM, Citigroup, Novartis), what is it that inspires you to work with cities and regions?

I have always had a love for cities – their diversity, their cultural assets and the opportunities they provide for all. I started my career in building community partnerships to help my home city (Rochester, NY) and its surrounding region to become even better through improved understanding of issues and collaborative action. This involved bringing people together across business, government, community and neighborhood sectors.

Throughout my career in corporate location strategy consulting and economic development I have been inspired by the many visionary leaders who make our city-regions very special and exciting places.

What motivated you to found Global Innovation Partners?

I wanted to leverage my 30+ years of advising companies and communities around the world, with a special emphasis on innovation and collaboration to help clients reach new levels of achievement. We do this by bringing together the best insights from my years as global practice leader at Fluor, PwC and IBM Business Consulting, and from other partners working around the world. Hence – Global Innovation Partners.

You have directed economic development strategies both in the USA and the UK. From your experience, what are the fundamental differences between advising cities in Great Britain and in North America?

The most fundamental difference is the level of business involvement in the USA. Many if not most city-regional economic development organizations are structured as public/private partnerships, typically as not for profits with substantial business leader board and volunteer involvement along with diverse private sector funding. Even those that are public agencies, typically have strong corporate and private sector leadership or advisory boards. This ensures business engagement and support and the continuity needed, as elected officials and administrations change.

Although slowly changing, much of the UK’s development (and that in Europe and Asia) is still carried out by government and public agencies, and lacks the broad support and consistency that business stakeholders can provide.

How important is place branding for the economic positioning of cities and regions?

Absolutely critical! Now more than ever with the reality of globalization. A city-region’s competition isn’t limited to cities a state or two away, or even the country or hemisphere.

With companies seeking access to new markets, specialized talents and more efficient supply chains, there is a constant reevaluation of locations for new investment (or relocating of already existing locations). It is more important than ever for communities to differentiate themselves through effective branding.

How can place branding support the sustainable (economic) development of cities?

Place branding can not only attract long term investment but also helps local and regional stakeholders understand and communicate their value proposition. It helps them to successfully argue the business case and return on investment for infrastructure, education and other competitive improvements.

In addition to advising several private companies, you are also a member of the advisory group of Citiscope. What do you think is the role of this type of online news platforms?

Citiscope was created to bring global best practice examples to the attention of mayors, other government officials and civic leaders across the world. It is written and edited by independent journalists and editors to assure accuracy and objectivity. It is accompanied by analysis and commentary from global experts. Online platforms like this provide for timely, searchable and shareable information in easy to digest formats for public officials and other key stakeholders with a limited time and attention span.

What are your tips for early career economic development consultants? Is there a rule of thumb to ‘get things right’? Which pitfalls to avoid?

My most important advice is to get involved with a professional organization of peers, sharing and searching for the best answers and practices.

I have learned and shared most of what I know through my many years of involvement with the International Economic Development Council, the largest professional organization for economic developers in the world. Its conferences, publications, webinars are exceptional and are especially useful for early career economic developers and consultants serving the field.

I was blessed to grow my career within such stellar consulting organizations as Fantus, Fluor, PwC and IBM Business Consulting. Learning and practising methodologies among a spectrum of experienced consultants is a terrific way to grow, but there are many smaller, general and specialized firms that offer exceptional opportunities as well.

The biggest pitfall to avoid is isolation and the risk of believing you know it all.

Thank you, Gene.

Connect with Gene DePrez via LinkedIn or learn more about his work at Global Innovation Partners here.

IEDC logoGene DePrez was a speaker at the International Economic Development Council annual conference in Toronto, Canada, 17-20 September 2017. The Place Brand Observer supported the conference as media partner.

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