Take a roll of duct tape, some Post-It Notes, a couple of toilet tubes and an empty soda can and what have you got?
We’ll if you’re MacGyver, you have everything you need to do in the bad guys, rescue the requisite damsel in distress, save the world and whip up a soufflé for dinner. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll probably be able to cobble together a new business idea, create a bunch of jobs and help your community grow. But if you’re an economic developer, you’ll end up trying to do all these things at the same time, except perhaps rescuing that damsel in distress, which is sad because it’s the only reason I got into this profession in the first place.
If you’re not familiar with MacGyver – and I can’t imagine anyone who isn’t – he’s a fictional secret agent whose mission is to set everything right in the world. Think James Bond without the big budget. No beautiful women by his side, no huge R&D team, no sleek Aston Martin to drive around in, unless he carves one out of a bar of soap while he’s locked away in a seemingly inescapable tomb of doom.
In an age of dwindling budgets and ever-changing priorities, we’ve all had to become MacGyvers in our respective jobs. We are asked to do more with less, watching our budget dollars shrink while expectations rise. True, I don’t have any real data to support this, but certainly the anecdotal evidence is there, and if that’s good enough for MacGyver, who am I to argue?
While I think it’s safe to say that everyone would love to be the James Bond of economic development, with a virtually unlimited expense account and all the latest gadgets, we live in very different times, one that requires us to be increasingly resourceful and to continually think out of the box if we are to be successful in our jobs and add value to our communities.
There’s a simple beauty to being more MacGyver-like in our daily work. It keeps us on our toes, commands us to be innovative and inventive and to make every minute and every dollar count. Sure, it would be nice to have a case of duct tape and unlimited Post-Its at your disposal. Who wouldn’t want that? But at some point in time, we have to stop making the excuse that we can’t do anything without money. We can still do amazing things with the resources we have because we uniquely understand the communities we serve, we know the players involved, we know what we have to offer and we have a deep understanding of the challenges and the opportunities.
There’s an old saying that you don’t necessarily need to know how to fight a fire as long as you know where the fire extinguishers are. We are called to put out fires all the time with a lot less, and knowing what’s in our toolbox – what our resources and assets are – can be just as important, if not more so, than having a big budget and a large staff.
MacGyver made it seven seasons on TV with just a couple of paper clips, a broken circuit board and a really thin plot line. I think we can best him at his own game, continuing to find our way out of tight spots using our vast knowledge, unlimited resourcefulness, unique assets, and boundless ingenuity. Being in the economic development game isn’t for the faint of heart. Rather, it’s for those who have a deep personal and professional commitment to creating a better community, a more prosperous economy, safe, friendly neighborhoods and vibrant downtown cores, no matter what the odds.
In my many years as a secret agent for the state, I’ve met my share of MacGyvers – economic developers who have been amazingly resourceful with their technical assistance so that they can retain businesses, grow jobs, help startups and create healthy communities. With money increasingly in short supply for economic development work, we need to continue to ask ourselves WWMD (What Would Maury Do)??? We need to think like entrepreneurs and act like MacGyver so that we can save our communities from distress with a little ingenuity, creativity and a lot of duct tape.