Rafael Carbonell Photo

Rafael Carbonell

Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy

Gordon Hanson Photo

Gordon Hanson

Peter Wertheim Professor in Urban Policy


Economic development is a top priority for governors, county executives, mayors, and civic leaders who are responsible for defining and executing policies and strategies to help their regions achieve greater prosperity. In both thriving and distressed places, in larger cities and rural communities, there are social, political, and market forces that constrain decision making and foster competitive battles among states, counties, and cities for new investment. Policy practitioners often find themselves obligated to use tax incentives and public subsidies to lure large companies and top talent. Often sidelined in this race for resources is how we can make economic development more equitable and more sustainable.

This course will survey the history and evolution of state and local economic development policies in U.S. urban and rural communities; provide an understanding of the institutions, politics, and players involved; and discuss analytical frameworks for assessing which policy tools are effective and under what conditions. We will explore what to do with regions in distress by comparing and evaluating place-based policies, analyze the role and impact of economic and policy innovation in economic development, and consider why economic development policy often fails to deliver broad-based gains to local residents. Although most course material relates to local economic development in the United States, throughout the course we will bring in examples of and research on place-based policies in other countries.  The format is two weekly class meetings, one a lecture informed by cases and readings and the other a guest lecture by a leading economic development thinker or practitioner, drawn from across the United States. The course will elicit substantial student interaction and provide coaching and mentoring opportunities for students considering a career in state and local economic development.