Guest Blog: Intersecting Pathways: Economic and Agricultural Development Insights from MEDA

Photo Credit: JTG Media

Alexandra Hughes, Esq., Founder of Blended Public Affairs, delivered an inspirational keynote address at the MEDA 2024 Annual Conference, illuminating critical insights on economic development’s essence and impact. Hughes navigated the divide between private and public sector perspectives on economic development, highlighting the importance of aligning stakeholders through effective communication as a principle, which is vital in sustaining and growing the economy. 

She emphasized the importance of economic developers acting as translators and effective communicators, connecting different perspectives in the field. By explaining how the industry impacts clients and the wider community, they can rally support and encourage teamwork. Whether it’s sparking interest in innovative sectors like AI, agricultural technology and life sciences or making the most of what’s already available, clear communication is key. 

Hughes also articulated the intertwined nature of policy with economic development, stressing the importance of active engagement in the legislative process. By forging personal connections with legislators, Hughes stated how economic developers “can change the course of what is happening in Annapolis and within County government.” Regardless of party affiliation, building relationships with legislators is invaluable. She urged individuals to stand firmly in their experience, history and lens to impact and influence policies that shape communities’ economic landscape. Job creation and business growth are common priorities amongst all elected officials, and without economic developers, there is no economic growth. Relative to the agricultural economy, without ag businesses, communities would not have access to fresh local foods. 

Photo Credit: JTG Media

In a rapidly evolving world, Hughes advocated for innovation and adaptation in economic development strategies. Throughout her keynote, she encouraged attendees to apply the messaging to their own work, to think differently and leverage new tools to reshape and revitalize communities. Reflecting on the work within agricultural business development, there are parallels in strategies. Effective communication skills and collaboration are immeasurable while facing the challenge of bridging the gap between agriculture and environmental interests. Success can be achieved by identifying a commonality. Although agricultural industries may not be fully understood by many, there is widespread interest among individuals in food, particularly in aspects such as local food availability, access, and resiliency. Breaking down silos and fostering dialogue amongst differing groups and legislators around the food system has proven to be instrumental in driving positive change and bolstering support to the agricultural economy.

Ultimately, Hughes’s insightful keynote resonated with all Maryland economic developers in the room serving as a reminder of economic development’s pivotal role in embracing innovation and fostering collaboration to drive prosperity and resilience. By drawing inspiration from her keynote and applying lessons learned from their own experiences, Maryland economic developers will continue to drive economic growth and build thriving communities across the state.

Written by Becca Tucker, Senior Business Development Manager of the Frederick County Office of Agriculture, and MEDA Lofton Scholar

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