In honor of Women’s History Month, Greenville and Pitt County are celebrating several female economic development professionals who are committed to the growth of the area.
We talked with three influential and experienced economic developers who serve our community through business development and industrial recruitment:
Kelly Andrews, a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD), is the director of Pitt County Economic Development. She started in the economic development industry in 2006 after previously serving in a workforce development role for North Carolina’s eastern region.
Uconda Dunn is the vice president of business development for the Greenville Eastern North Carolina (ENC) Alliance. She started in the industry in 2007 and has worked in markets throughout North Carolina and Virginia.
Kathy Howard, business development specialist for Greenville Utilities Commission, began working in economic development in 1998. In her current role, she leads GUC’s Key Accounts Team and provides a single point of contact for commercial and industrial customers.
During this Q&A style interview, Kelly, Uconda, and Kathy give their unique perspectives on the process of business retention, attraction, and expansion. They also share their hopes for the future and desire to bring more female talent and diversity to economic development.
Q1: How did you get into the field of economic development?
Kelly: I worked for three years in workforce development as an Apprenticeship Consultant with the State Department of Labor, serving about 20 counties in eastern North Carolina. Workforce development works hand-in-hand with economic development, and it was a rewarding job. When an opportunity came along to transition to economic development for my home county, I was all in!
Uconda: I was working in workforce development with Turning Point Workforce Development Board and making joint business calls with Kathy Howard. She suggested that I consider a move into economic development.
Kathy: You could say I fell into economic development right after college when I took a job in communications and research for a regional economic development organization serving eastern North Carolina. I am still so appreciative for that opportunity and the skills and lessons I have gained over the last 20 years.
Q2: How has the field changed since you started? Are there more women now than in previous years?
Kelly: The tenets of economic development haven’t changed tremendously; however, the practice has changed and evolved over time. It’s not as heavy on the “hard sell” as it is identifying needs in your community, working with partners to solve them, and telling your story in a compelling way that resonates with the client or individual. Economic development means a lot of things, not just a new company in town. It is workforce development, entrepreneurship, existing industry support, and placemaking, among other things. It is also more fast-paced than ever, and there is never a dull moment. There were quite a few women economic developers when I came along, but there are substantially more today. The field has become more diverse in other ways as well.
Uconda: The approach to economic development has changed and has become more innovative. A community and state must continue to grow and show their best assets because competition is very stiff. COVID changed how we do familiarization tours with consultants and client visits. We’ve moved to a more virtual approach, and we rely more on digital assets. Yes, there are more women in economic development now than in 2007 and a great deal more in leadership roles.
Kathy: There are definitely more women in the field, and I’d say most of my counterparts and colleagues in the field are women now. The field has changed a good bit over the last several years and the way we market, respond, and communicate with clients is much different. Much of that is thanks to technology. In fact, we don’t even get a chance to speak with clients and consultants early in the process anymore because they’re able to do their own independent research. When I first started in economic development, I spent much of my time researching demographic data that is now widely available.
Q3: What does it mean to you to be a woman in this field?
Kelly: I am in great company with a lot of women in the field and many partners that are women in leadership positions. More and more all the time.
Uconda: As a black woman in the field, I am a unicorn. While the industry has changed in the number of women represented, it has not diversified racially. Being in my position at this stage of my career shows that there is a seat at the table for women and we have to continue to pursue leadership roles.
Q4: What is the industry doing to support and encourage more women?
Kelly: I think there is strong support today to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts for women and other minority groups in many fields. Our new Pitt County Manager is the first woman in that position, and our NC Secretary of Commerce is the first African American woman in that role. They both hold these positions as strong, capable leaders who happen to be women. Nevertheless, recognizing that they are “firsts” makes us stop and think about how far we have come, but still have more to do if we are still seeing “firsts” for women in leadership in 2022.
Uconda: There are conferences and trainings now held by women for women in economic development. These opportunities give us a chance to network with other professionals in the field that face similar challenges and a network for idea sharing.
Kathy: I feel the industry is very open and supportive of women in the field. There are various opportunities for women to grow while also many organizations offer conferences for women. I would say many of the site selection consultants, statewide developers and local developers are women.
Q5: If you’ve attended any women in economic development events, what was your experience like?
Uconda: You are always more comfortable in a room with people who look like you so you are more willing to share, ask questions, give feedback, and look for opportunities to find people that are in similar communities or roles that you can have as a resource.
Kathy: It has been great to network with other women in all areas of economic development and these types of events showcase some of the same challenges women may have in the field, but also provide opportunities for growth.
Q6: In what ways could more awareness be spread about careers in economic development?
Kelly: Just as with other professions, we can engage our emerging talent early, like with our Grow Local Program. We’re able to create awareness of the different career paths and opportunities in economic development such as marketing, recruiting, project management, and leadership. Developing additional opportunities to nurture new talent with interest in the field, such as internships, would also be helpful for the next generation of economic developers.
Uconda: We must reach younger talent. Oftentimes, economic development isn’t on the radar of young people coming out of college and especially not minorities. We need more awareness and inclusion to attract the people that will lead our organizations into the future.
Q7: What do you want girls and young women to know about this career path?
Kelly: Economic development is a very rewarding career, whether you are from a particular community or not. You don’t need a particular degree to do it – the field is full of people with diverse educational backgrounds and experience. The keys to the job are knowing the needs of the community you serve, being dedicated to making a difference wherever and however you can, and being a good partner. The field continues to grow and evolve, and there are many opportunities out there for the next generation of economic developers.
Uconda: It is a rewarding career path. You get to work every day to make the community you live in stronger and to tell the story of the place you call home to people across the world. My experiences have taken me to Europe, South America, and across the United States, telling business leaders about my community and state. I love to tell people about the community that I live in and call home.
Kathy: This career path provides opportunities. If someone is a data analyst, accountant, or attorney there are places for them in the economic development field. If you are one to want to network, meet many new people, and have the opportunity to learn so much about other areas of the world – it is a great career. My favorite part of economic development is working to promote my home community, working with local and statewide leaders on all levels while also meeting business leaders to help them learn more about my community as a potential business location.
Media Relations Contact:
Director of Marketing and Communications
Greenville Eastern North Carolina (ENC) Alliance