Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.

A sizable crowd of women in the economic development profession got together last week for an annual informational and networking opportunity geared especially to them.

The Women in Economic Development Forum was held Sept. 24-26 in Chicago, which has been the forum’s home-base since first being organized in 2010 by Area Development, referred to as the premier site selection magazine in the industry.

Among recognized sponsors for the event was the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), utilizing its new “Arkansas Inc.” marketing slogan. Three AEDC staff members were in attendance: Esperanza Massana, director of marketing; and project managers Katherine Gentry and Katherine Holmstrom. Also representing Arkansas, and their own local community areas, were Kristi Barr of the Little Rock Regional Chamber and Lou Ann Nisbett of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County. In its routine project development efforts, the Alliance works with all three of the AEDC staffers.

An impressive lineup of forum speakers — all women and mostly site location consultants with major firms — gave presentations on a number of trending development topics, as well as covering a few fundamentals. Even seasoned practitioners like Nisbett gleaned some new ideas and strategies that she jotted down in a small, hand-out memento journal sporting the forum’s logo.

As usual at such conferences these days, the topic of workforce development for the 21st Century was on the agenda and also the subject of conversations during networking times.

A related session detailed the current trend of automation in manufacturing and touched on the looming nationwide shortage of skilled workers as Baby Boomers continue retiring in large percentages each year. It was brought out by another speaker, however, that manufacturing is experiencing an “extreme makeover” and the opportunity exists for women to help fill the employment gap and the skills gap.

Nisbett noted later being pleased to see participation by other women from Arkansas since she’s been the lone attendee from the state at several past forums. She also noted the apparent trend of more younger women — Millennials — entering the field of economic development, which not too long ago was predominately a male career choice.