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.

Lou Ann Nisbett, president of the Economic Development Alliance, concluded her 2018 business travel schedule with a Dec. 3-5 trip to Miami Beach, Florida.

Over the course of this year, she has attended select economic development conferences and consultant events, which provided opportunities to hear key experts discuss trends in the industry and also network with them and her colleagues in the economic development profession.

Nisbett was in Miami for the Area Development Consultants Forum 26. With a subheading of “Best Practices for Economic Developers,” the event brought together “leading voices in site consulting and economic development” for two days of presentations and panel discussions.

According to Area Development’s website, the conference takeaways were designed to assist attendees with their respective strategies for business attraction and retention.

In a nutshell, attracting new industries to one’s community while helping retain those already there is the essence of community economic development. These goals remain constant. But changing trends call for not only being aware of them but also for adopting new ways to address them.

Training issues and “tomorrow’s” manufacturing workforce are focal issues addressed at nearly all of the conferences Nisbett has attended the past few years. The general takeaway, in some form or the other, has been that human workers — younger and more mature — must continually be learning and improving themselves. That’s because the automated machines (robots) that will be performing many industry jobs just need programming to operate.

Interestingly, impacts of the millennial generation on the workforce also has been a frequent topic at these conferences. Not so much this time. In a session actually entitled “Not Another Millennial Presentation(!),” a speaker noted how “the Generation Z explosion is about to hit the labor force” with new and different impacts.

Although the client makes the final location decision, a community’s selection for a new industry frequently begins with a positive recommendation from a consultant. Knowing the consultants in advance of a site visit or project-related communication is a decided advantage for the local developer. These conferences provide networking opportunities as well as occasions to learn the most current selection “drivers” favored by individual consultants.

The Miami conference’s roundtable format was an effective way of networking, with attendees moving every few minutes to other tables for sessions with specific speaker-experts. Nisbett lucked out in one round as the only economic developer at a consultant’s table, which offered 10 minutes of one-on-one discussion with a global corporate real estate executive. That’s the old-fashioned version of face time. And it still works!