An Interview with Dick Larman,
Executive Director, Lewis County Economic Development Council
If Washington State had a guru for economic development, it would be Dick Larman. Dick has been the dean of our profession, providing wisdom, counsel and outspoken passion to the state’s economic development programs and strategies, for almost three decades. That will soon come to an end as he will no longer be the Executive Director for the Lewis County Economic Development Council and will be retiring Nov. 1, 2014. Prior to his current position, Dick was the Managing Director for Regional Services at Washington’s Department of Community Trade and Economic Development. Dick held several other positions within CTED over a period of 24 years. He led downtown revitalization, business recruitment, retention and expansion programs and projects during those years. I have been fortunate to have been able to work with Dick over the years and I know that I am not alone when I say that we will miss his knowledge and experience that he has provided so eloquently over the years.
What lessons would you give people entering the profession now?
One of the most important economic development lessons for me, over the years, has been language. I don’t mean Spanish, English, German, etc. I mean the subtle shifts in understanding between and among anyone involved in the development of a community and its economy. I’ve come to believe entire communities are essential to long-term economic success. However, most folks in a community don’t see their role in the economy as something intuitive. As a result, creating a language that includes rather than excludes has been a focus for the past couple decades of my work.
Recently a state elected official asked me why Lewis County has so many economic development organizations. Well, there aren’t. The Lewis Economic Development Council, the Ports of Centralia and Chehalis, and the East Lewis County Public Development Authority, are specifically chartered to provide marketing and development of industrial growth. However, as the EDC has broadened its partnerships, and common “language” to ensure other organizations see their role in economic development. As a result, many now mention economic development as part of their goals. And, the conversations are plain.
For those entering the profession now, focus on the languages you don’t understand in a community (fire districts, police, early childhood education, drug courts for example) and help them see their importance to economic developments future.
What economic development super power would you like to have?
If I had an economic development super power, or if there was such a thing, I would slay apathy. Not caring about the success of our business communities is a wound. Not being aware of the illness of thinking someone else is taking care of tough issues is deadly. And, believing businesses are bulletproof is fatal. If you have folks in your community who believe businesses profit too much, explain (in detail) the supply chain of that business. Most likely that supply chain will find its way into many paychecks and livelihoods in that community.
Who has been your mentors in the profession and why?
I have been fortunate in mentors finding me. Or, perhaps they simply recognized my ignorance and pointed it out. Which, is great if you are willing to do something about it. Patrick Dunn (the Director of Planning and Community Affairs Agency, one of the predecessors of Commerce) had a great passion for local communities and empowered many to help small towns in Washington. Dick Thompson (Director of Dept. of Community Development that also preceded Commerce) for instilling patience with necessary processes. Martha Choe (Director of CTED) for modeling communication skills in a technology world. Ron Kuest, (a leadership consultant among other things) who instilled the distinctions between transactions, transformations and empowerment (T2E copyrighted).