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Economic Development Seminar

This is a monthly non-credit seminar for students and leading economic development thinkers and doers from around the country to engage on state, county, and city best practices and shared challenges. 


With ongoing and growing economic inequities across racial, socioeconomic and geographic lines, economic development is consistently a top priority for governors, mayors, and civic leaders, and they frequently struggle with defining and executing on viable economic development strategies with clear and sustained outcomes. Competition among cities is also increasingly fierce. For example, the recent Amazon H2Q “sweepstakes,” with 238 proposals submitted by 54 states, provinces, regions and cities from throughout the US, Canada and Mexico, represents one of the largest economic development deals in history.  

But should states and cities be competing for companies using public funds for incentives and subsidies? Should they instead focus only on helping entrepreneurs or existing small businesses, or a more diversified portfolio approach?  What strategies are being utilized (or should be) to develop, retain or attract the workforce of today and the future?  Should states and cities even be involved in this space or should they just leave it to the private sector? And how is success currently being measured?  How should it be?  Who is benefitting and what is being done to create more opportunities for more people?  

With these and other questions in mind, the Taubman Center for State & Local Government is thrilled to host its Economic Development Seminar Series for the 2021-2022 academic year. The objectives are to provide HKS students:  

  • an orientation to the landscape of existing state + local government economic development strategies  
  • a deeper understanding of which economic development strategies are (not) working well and why (not)  
  • connections to and advice from economic development experts to pursue career opportunities  
  • a community of connected students, and eventually alumni, passionate about economic development  
  • a developing body of scholarship for the Taubman Center to expand future economic development offerings  

Audience and Focus 

This  Seminar Series is for Harvard Kennedy School students from all degree programs (MPP, MPA, MPA/ID, MC/MPA, Joint & Concurrent) who have an interest in better understanding, and potentially having a direct hand in some day shaping and improving, the increasingly competitive, complex and changing field of economic development. Students need not be experts on the topic, but they should ideally have an interest in applying what they learn through this series to positively influence state and local government economic development policy and decision making, either serving as, or in collaboration with, public sector leaders.    

While economic development is being pursued around the globe, and while discussion will be informed by those efforts, for the purposes of this seminar, the  focus will be on domestic U.S. economic development.   

The seminar series will cover some economic development theory, but will have more focus on practice, with specific examples of what is being done, where, and by whom. Common themes to be covered throughout the series will include the role of who is (or should be) providing economic development assistance and funding (government vs. private sector vs. philanthropy), the strategies being utilized, the scale at which it is happening (state vs. region vs. city), and the impact and measurability of these efforts (traditional vs. new vs. future). Equitable economic development will also be an important topic of discussion throughout the entire series.   

Each session will have a pre-reading (approx. 30-60 minutes) to inform/spark discussion. Depending on the topic, there will be 1-2 guest experts and the Taubman Center’s Executive Director, Rafael Carbonell, will facilitate a conversation. Speakers will share brief remarks to complement the pre-reading, leaving the majority of the time for discussion. The format is intended to foster dynamic discussion, the sharing of different perspectives, and active participation by all students. Speakers will include thought leaders and practitioners with diverse backgrounds from different regions of the U.S. Examples from last year include Stephen Moret, President & CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, who led the successful recruitment of Amazon’s HQ2; Alejandra Lopez, the City of San Antonio’s Director of Economic Development (the first Latina in the role); and Celina Barrios-Millner, the City of Boston’s Director of Equity & Inclusion.   


The Economic Development Seminar Series provides  participants with a package of 3 unique engagements:  

  • Breakfast Seminar Sessions – 6 monthly  90-min sessions held on a Friday from 9:00 - 10:30am ET 
  • Speakers + Students Social – conversation + connections held the evening prior to each session  
  • Speaker Office Hours + Mentoring – post-session 1:1 time w speakers for career advice and connections  


A very short application is required for consideration to participate in the seminar series. Depending on demand, approximately 25 students will be selected to participate for the entire series.   

There is an important commitment to be made by students given the seminar series will take place over the course of the academic year, and there will be more applicants than spots available. While recognizing that life happens, the seminar is only once a month and the expectation is that students will attend all 6 sessions unless a truly unavoidable conflict arises. There is also an expectation for students to attend the social activities with speakers the evening prior to each session.  

Applications are due September 24, 2021, 11:59 pm ET.


AY 2021-22 Sessions:

  • Session 1: 10/21/21 and 10/22/21 
  • Session 2: 11/18/21 and 11/19/21
  • Session 3: 1/27/21 and 1/28/21
  • Session 4: 3/3/22 and 3/4/22
  • Session 5: 3/31/22 and 4/1/22
  • Session 6: 4/28/22 and 4/29/22