MEDA Members’ Corner: Jen LaHatte
Jen LaHatte, Managing Director of Policy, Research & Government Affairs, Maryland Department of Commerce
Explain your background in economic development
My experience in economic development has all been through my time at Commerce. I came to the agency almost ten years ago and have been fortunate to serve in a variety of roles which have given me the opportunity to work with the entire department and learn our wide variety of programs and initiatives. I have also been a MEDA member for six years and took the Basic Economic Development course to increase my knowledge of economic development.
What are your key priorities within your current position?
In my current position I serve as the government affairs and legislative liaison for the Department. My key priorities are to advance the legislative and budget priorities of the Governor and the Secretary and to work with our local partners and legislators to ensure Maryland has the tools we need to continue to grow the State’s economy and make Maryland an even better place to live, work, and do business.
Does one particular project spark your excitement? If so, describe it below.
Over the last three years, Secretary Schulz has made it a priority to review and evaluate Commerce’s programs to find where improvements can be made or what could be streamlined. During the 2021 legislative session, we introduced and successfully passed four bills that were part of that work product. I think it’s really important to continue evaluating what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and make changes when necessary and I’m proud to be a part of that effort.
What professional pressures keep you up at night?
As MEDA members know well, economic development is often misunderstood or not understood at all, and that applies to members of the legislature as well. With changes in membership and leadership, we are often starting over in explaining Commerce’s mission and programs. And with competing priorities in the legislature, we often have to fight to show the importance of our programs at the State and local level, and to send the message that what we do is important not just for businesses which may seem nameless and faceless, but that the jobs these businesses are creating are everything to the people working there. As MEDA says, economic development transforms lives, and getting that message across can often be difficult.
If you could wave a magic wand, what would you want to work with MEDA on to move Maryland forward?
If I could wave a magic wand, I would want to be able to stress to legislators the importance of the work Commerce and local economic development agencies do, and why these programs are worth the investment.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with MEDA and your fellow members?
I’ve said it many times to MEDA members, and especially the local economic development directors before, but I cannot stress enough the importance of making contact and forming relationships with your legislators to tell them the good work you’re doing and the impact it’s having. Hearing those personal stories from the members of their communities is paramount to ensuring they understand the benefits of economic development.
Please include any personal background information that you’d like to share (Alma mater, Military Service, hobbies, etc)
I am a lifelong Maryland resident other than college – I graduated from the University of Notre Dame. I recently moved back to Cockeysville with my husband, now two sons (Timothy and Nicholas) and our rescue pup Griffey. My hobbies essentially revolve around keeping a two year old and a 5 month old happy and healthy 🙂