A Closer Look: Derek Lord
Economic development director, City of Ankeny
Friday, November 15, 2013 7:00 AM
Derek Lord began working as Ankeny’s economic development director on Aug. 26. He previously served as community investments team leader for the Iowa Economic Development Authority, managing a seven-person staff and overseeing a $20 million annual community investment fund and a $13 million small business development fund. He landed his first economic development director position when he was 29 with the city of Green Bay, Wis.
Education: Bachelor of Arts, business management, Simpson College; Master of Science, urban and regional planning, University of Iowa
Family: Two children: Fisher and Phoenix
How did you develop an interest in economic development?
After college, I sought an internship with Warren County Economic Development Corp. because I thought it was a fascinating field and I had always been interested in city planning and development. I did some work in Minnesota for a couple of years working for a nonprofit before I went to graduate school for urban planning at the University of Iowa. What I found (working at Green Bay) with economic development is that you really get to implement the plans that you help create as a city staff person. So I had the best of both worlds where I got to do the planning for long-range economic development strategy and then got to do the implementation. Being on the ground at the local level is really where the rubber meets the road and you’re really in a position to make a difference in your community.
How would you compare Ankeny to Green Bay?
Ankeny’s an incredibly desirable community, from the aspect of people who want to live here, to small business owners who want to open retail locations here, all the way to large manufacturers, bioscience and technology companies that are locating here. In Green Bay, you had to work a lot harder and be a lot more creative to make some things happen there that just happen naturally here in Ankeny. It’s an entirely different economic development climate.
Notable experience you’ve gained?
With the state, I was able to implement the State Small Business Credit Initiative, which was a new U.S. Treasury program that most states received funding for. It was a little bit outside of my experience, so it really challenged me and opened up some new opportunities. It taught me a lot about the small business lending climate, which was very valuable. I was also able to take my experience in Green Bay on downtown revitalization projects and apply it to what at the time was a new program offered by IEDA called the Downtown Revitalization Program, which grew significantly while I was there.
What are some of your key goals?
Business retention efforts are going to be a big deal. Ankeny has a lot of very successful businesses and a lot of young companies that over time are going to grow and be successful. We approved three development agreements last month at the City Council from every type of industry - from manufacturing to bioscience to more traditional manufacturing and distribution. It just shows you how diverse the economy is here. So really, we need to spend time to reach out to those companies, build those relationships and make sure we’re able to address any needs they have to help them be as successful as they can be right here in Ankeny. We also will be looking at different incentive options; we currently are in the process of reviewing our local and business investment policies. I think there are some opportunities to create some things a little more unique to help us stand out and attract different types of industry to the city.
What’s your first priority?
My first priority has just been understanding the market. Economic development as a practice is pretty similar from one community to the next, but it takes time to understand the partnerships, the missions of different organizations, the developers and where the opportunities are. One of my philosophies is that you’ve got to go slow to go fast, so the last couple of months, I’ve been taking the time to really learn and understand more about the community so we can do a lot more work going forward.
What might we find you doing in your off-time?
I’m quite a big Packers fan, of course. I just was in Green Bay a couple of weeks ago to go to a game. I travel quite a bit and enjoy outdoor recreation. I enjoy working on my house and projects, whether it’s landscaping, woodworking or remodeling. One of the things I find in my career is that the tangible results can sometimes take years or even decades. I like to look at something at the end of the day and I can see the difference. So it’s a little bit of an outlet for me.
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