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ED Now Feature: Leadership Insights: Steve Budd, FM, HLM
tags: leadership
Eli Dile   on Monday, March 19, 2018 at 9:05:00 am

By Joy Wilkins, CEcD

Steve Budd’s journey in economic development began more than 40 years ago when he joined the team at CityWide, a nonprofit organization serving the city of Dayton, Ohio.  Becoming CityWide’s president in 1989, Budd led the organization’s efforts in economic development, community revitalization, and downtown housing and real estate development until his retirement in early 2018. 

In addition to his leadership in Dayton, Budd has served as a perpetual leader for IEDC.  Budd served on the transition team that birthed IEDC, is a founding member of the Economic Development Research Partners (EDRP) program, and a past chair of the board.  In 2012, he was awarded IEDC’s Jeffrey A. Finkle Organizational Leadership Award for his longstanding leadership of CityWide, and in 2017 he received IEDC’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Honor of Edward deLuca, in recognition of his true leadership in the field of urban economic development. 

In this article, Budd offers insights and advice for economic developers serving today and into the future.

1. Develop a high-performing team.

Reflecting on his long career with one organization, Budd zeroes in on what has mattered most in making an impact: the people on your team.  “Of our 22 employees, every one of them is critical,” he explains. “An organization’s success is not just about the CEO and senior executives.”Develop a high-performing team.

While it is important to find team members with the right skill sets in finance, marketing, and so on, Budd believes it is more important that they understand and believe in the mission of the organization.  For example, in the case of CityWide, they had to be passionate about urban revitalization.  “I always explained to people that we were doing God’s work in an urban setting, and if you just want to make money, maybe this is not the place to be,” says Budd.

In addition to choosing motivated team members for the mission, Budd advises that team development is ongoing and requires a personal investment.  For example, he would take the time to work with individuals when they made a mistake to help them understand how and why the mistake happened.  That way, the same mistakes tend not to be repeated.

 2. Stay connected with trusted peers.

About this series

This article is the 12th in a series, “Leadership Insights,” featuring wisdom from economic development leaders who have experienced the real-life peaks and valleys of our profession.

Featured individuals have been recognized by IEDC for outstanding service to the profession and their communities. “Leadership Insights” is a companion series to ED Now’s ongoing “Leadership in Economic Development” series.

“The work we do is very hard, and it’s so valuable to develop friendships with others doing similar work,” advises Budd.  He connected early on, through IEDC and other vehicles, with peers who became close confidantes, and credits these relationships as critical to his success.  “We have helped develop each other,” he says, “as we don’t just talk about the great things we do, we also talk about the things we didn’t do well and share ways to help each other.”

Budd notes that discussing the issues you’re facing with peers outside your community is often easier than vetting with local peers.  While maintaining relationships with local peers is important, competition for funding or other factors can affect how they perceive an issue, he observes.  Budd was still leaning on his peers in the days leading to his retirement, using them to inform his thinking on a weekly basis. 

Because of the importance of these relationships, Budd advises economic development professionals become involved in organizations such as IEDC – his personal favorite due to its large network and scope – and other associations that align with the work we do.  This means serving on committees, actively participating in conferences, and joining the organizations’ boards. 

“When you serve on a board or committee, you hear different perspectives and learn a lot from the various leadership styles,” says Budd.  “You also form the kind of trusted peer relationships you can take with you when your time of volunteer service is up,” he adds.

 3. Realize how small projects can make a big difference.

“When you’re in one place for so long, you are involved in many big projects and everyone likes to talk about the mega deals, but what I actually remember the most are the small projects, the ones that don’t get media coverage,” Budd reveals. 

One of the last projects he worked involved helping a young couple open up a restaurant in downtown Dayton that in three years became one of “the” places to go for dinner.  The couple had been struggling with putting a financing package together. Budd’s team worked to connect them with a property owner, a local bank, and CityWide’s lending program, which provided gap financing.  For another project, Budd recalls working through cultural, language, and trust barriers to help a resident open a Turkish grocery store.  The resident, who once sold groceries out of his home, now sells to Dayton’s thriving Turkish community from a free-standing building.

“While these projects don’t get the big headlines, for every big headline deal, there’s a dozen smaller projects that really add up and also make urban centers exciting places to live,” explains Budd.

4. Create and nurture dynamic partnerships to make things happen.

When federal funding declined for the work of organizations like CityWide, Budd’s team

had to find new partners and different sources of funding to keep programs going.  For Dayton, this led to the formation of dynamic public-private partnerships, beginning with what they called the Genesis project.  “We discovered that having a cool name for the project got everyone excited and was helpful for branding our partnership,” says Budd. 

Genesis, which began nearly 20 years ago and is still going, brought together Dayton’s largest hospital, the University of Dayton, the city of Dayton, and CityWide to deal with neighborhood challenges on the east side.  Other partnership projects, known as Phoenix and DaVinci, followed suit in other parts of the city to focus on asset-based development.  According to Budd, these projects worked because they brought senior-level people together on a monthly basis to connect inside City Hall, grapple with the issues, develop a strategy, and eventually provide funds. 

Budd explains that each project became a little more sophisticated as they identified opportunities for improvement over time.  “For example, we’ve learned about the importance of the governance model,” he says.  “By the time we got to Phoenix, we decided to have the number one leader for each organization on our project board so they are in the trenches with us working on the plan.”  This makes it easier to ask for funds from leaders who are not just hearing about the project once or twice a year, he explains.

What’s most important to know when working a public-private partnership project?  “You need to understand your role is to serve as a mediator and catalyst and be able to converse well with both elected officials and CEOs,” Budd says.  He notes it’s important to understand they have their own challenges, and there will be times when you’ll need to disagree yet agree to maintain the relationship.  Pointing to the Genesis project, 20 years in the making, he advises these projects take time and patience. “Sometimes you think you can reach a goal in a year and you’re still not there in two years,” he notes.

5. In the midst of a regional approach, don’t forget the importance of the urban center.

Budd’s first exposure to regionalism dates back 25 years, when the Edge Program was developed to provide funding for economic development and other projects to jurisdictions in the Dayton region.  Part of the Edge Program mandates the sharing of income-tax revenue for jurisdictions that are impacted by one of its economic development projects.  Budd saw firsthand how this program, which has received national attention for fostering regional cooperation, created effective dialogue among the leaders in the region, leading to dividends for all.

Budd sees it as right for communities to work in regional partnerships, but advises such partnerships be mindful to address the decline of urban centers.  “Urban cities are still grappling with the mortgage credit crisis and we’re seeing sky-high poverty numbers,” he observes.  Noting how it is often much easier to do development in suburbia – where you’re not dealing with poverty, aging infrastructure, and other issues that plague many inner cities – he sees urban centers at risk of being overlooked.  He recommends making sure that inner city issues, and the importance of urban centers for regional economic development, remain a high priority for regional leaders. 

“The health of inner city schools, for example, needs to be on our checklist of items to address,” says Budd, noting that the decline of inner city schools leads to lower graduation rates, higher unemployment rates, and lower buying power for the region’s residents of the future.  “This is a vicious cycle and very hard to get out, and the best way to earn a living wage is to stay and do well in school,” he observes. 

Budd also stresses the importance of ensuring that the diversity of communities served – including that of the urban center – is represented in board leadership and staff positions for any regional partnership.  Part of the challenge, he observes, is that when recruiting leadership from a sprawling region, there can be multiple major corporations to consider which may lack diversity in their leadership.  “For a regional organization, it’s easier to not have diverse representation, so one must be more intentional and work harder to develop a diverse team,” says Budd.

In closing

“I have always loved this work and believe we really make a difference,” says Budd. The veteran economic development leader has served his beloved city of Dayton for more than 40 years and notes that he never really considered doing anything else.  And as he continues to volunteer with numerous organizations, his journey of service is not complete.


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