Guest column: Danielle Casey on what it’s like to build a regional economy, collaboratively

Danielle Casey

This week (May 9 to May 13) is Economic Development Week 2022, as recognized by the International Economic Development Council — the authority on the topic.

I slowed down just a tiny bit this weekend to consider, after more than 20 years in the profession, with some big project wins as well as losses and strategic initiatives launched and implemented in various markets: What has been my most rewarding experience?

Maybe it’s the spring winds blowing around thoughts in my head these days, or perhaps it’s the strong momentum I feel growing each day here in the greater Albuquerque region, but I would have to say I am most inspired and rewarded by the current work in progress. And that work is having the opportunity to positively affect our four-county metro region’s economy, which is growing in such meaningful ways. To see this region come into its own, and to do so in collaboration among counties around the region, is what keeps my spark burning bright.

I arrived here 18 months ago with the highest hopes of applying my skillset and advancing the work of an organization known and truly loved by so many. I didn’t know the players in the market, nor the major issues impeding key aspects of growth in this economy, but at my core, I was driven by the knowledge that I could make a meaningful impact.

My start was as non-traditional as they come. It was right smack in the middle of a pandemic. I met my bosses via Zoom, held my first meeting as president and CEO of the Albuquerque Regional Economic Alliance (AREA) via Zoom, even met my team the same way. It was unique and certainly not anyone’s idea of the best way to kick things off, but I sensed from each and every interaction that beyond being tenacious, savvy, self-aware professionals, business owners and civic leaders, they all wanted more.

More from themselves, each other and the leaders and organizations here to support and serve their work. They also seemed willing to give more. And that “more” is what I chose to pay special attention to.

When resources are less than abundant and a clear path to success isn’t lit up in neon yellow at the beginning, middle and end of often dark and challenging times, it can be easy to close off anything outside of what you know and to things you don’t control. I have seen many a group, community and even region really struggle to see one another as ONE. And that does not mean sacrificing the unique aspects of individual communities and neighborhoods in the region — it means celebrating them.

Conversations have only reinforced my view that folks here are ready to be part of the new vision we have laid out and want to see it met and exceeded. I see it in new partnerships brokered across geographies, in information sharing, in the kind of collaboration that may mean this time, “I don’t win the prize, but I am so happy that you will because that is good for ALL of us.”

Every day it is my great honor to be part of this exciting time in a region of our country that I have long admired. I am inspired to push for more, give back more and see more in the future. The bubbling business interests here, developments that are at the forefront of innovation, the talented leaders helping to make new roads into the future — together and in such collaborative ways that lift as we all climb, this is my most rewarding “in progress” experience thus far.

If you haven’t hugged an economic developer yet this week, please find one and do so! Economic development is about people and quality of life at the end of the day. It is just as AREA’s mission dictates, which is that it “leads and executes strategies designed to grow and diversify the economic base of the greater Albuquerque region, creating a prosperous, diverse and inclusive economy and elevating the standard of living for all.”

People are at the core of the concept. May we all see the fruits of our collective labor continue to come to life in good health and prosperity always.

Danielle Casey is the president ant CEO of AREA.

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