Increasing Expertise: Leigh Hopkins Earns Certified Economic Developer Credential

Senior Project Manager Leigh Hopkins earns her Certified Economic Developer credential

Leigh Hopkins, CEDR senior project manager

Economic developers around the state, many with years of experience and expertise themselves, often hire the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) for assistance with workforce development, strategic planning, fiscal and economic impact analyses, and more. Now, when CEDR gets a call, the program will have one more resource to offer. Leigh Hopkins, senior project manager at CEDR, is a newly minted Certified Economic Developer (CEcD). It’s a national designation that’s been years in the making, and marks Hopkins as an authority in the field of economic development.

The credential wasn’t always her goal. “I’m a city planner by trade and education,” Hopkins said.

She completed a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Georgia Tech in 2005, then worked for the city of Atlanta as well as the private sector before coming back to her alma mater in 2008. After joining CEDR, she got her certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners.

“I’ve held that certification ever since 2010, because it’s the industry credential for the planning profession, and I was hired here to work on projects with a planning component,” she said. “Over time, my job has morphed from planning, which can sometimes be idealistic, into economic development where the rubber meets the road in terms of helping communities implement their plans, but economic development wasn’t my area of expertise at first.”

As her role changed to include economic development-type work — strategic plans for communities and workforce development, primarily — she was encouraged to pursue the CEcD designation. It’s a journey that can take years and involves core classes central to the economic development field, at least four years of work experience, and a three-part comprehensive exam.

“When I started working at Georgia Tech, we had two senior managers who had their CEcD certifications,” Hopkins said. “They were mentors and encouraged us to participate in professional development courses. Georgia Tech is one of the host sites for courses offered by the International Economic Development Council, the accrediting body for the CEcD. I was encouraged to take their classes.”

To receive the certification, candidates must complete four required courses: Basic Economic Development, Business Retention and Expansion, Economic Development Credit Analysis, and Real Estate Development and Reuse. In addition, candidates choose two courses from a list of electives that include finance, marketing, small business development, and neighborhood development strategies. Hopkins selected economic development strategic planning and workforce development as her electives, since they are the areas she works in most often.

Her current boss, CEDR Director Alfie Meek, Ph.D., also supported her in getting the designation. “Our primary clients are the local economic developers around the state, many of whom have the CEcD certification themselves,” Meek said.  “As the ‘experts’ who are hired to provide advice and thought leadership to these communities, it gives us instant credibility and rapport with our clients if we have put in the hard work to achieve that same level of professional credential.”

Hopkins agrees that it’s hard work. In fact, only about one-third of those who take the exam pass it. She has some tips for people who are considering it.

    • Study the books. Much of the test is straight from those.
    • Take a prep course or two.
    • Practice writing the essays.
    • Learn the terminology.
    • Get a mentor or study buddy.

“Passing the exam shows that you have arrived in this field,” Hopkins said. “There are also good networking opportunities and good opportunities for professional development within the field.” And while the credential is significant to her, it’s more meaningful in the context of her job.

“It was important to have someone on our staff to get the certification, to add credibility to what we do and how we interact with our clients,” Hopkins said. “I think it gives our clients peace of mind. They feel that they’re in good hands with somebody who is accredited and well-versed in the economic development field.”

Call for Applications: Fund Your Research with EDRP

CEDR will be funding a new round of Economic Development Research Program (EDRP) projects and is looking for communities to submit their applications for research.

The mission of EDRP is to assist local communities by providing affordable economic development and policy research to enhance their competitive positions. The types of research include strategic planning and visioning, economic forecasting, community readiness assessments, economic impact analysis, downtown development planning, and workforce analysis and planning to name a few.

If your community has a need for economic development research, is willing to become actively involved in the project during the study phase and follow-up implementation, and is willing to provide some level of cost match, Georgia Tech and EDA want to partner with you to conduct the research.

Click here to start your application.

Have questions? Contact:

Candice McKie

Project Manager

Enterprise Innovation Institute

Georgia Institute of Technology



EDRP Launch: City of Rossville

In August 2018, the City of Rossville, GA submitted a proposal for a grant through the Economic Development Research Program (EDRP). The proposal presented a case for the development of a “Strategic Priorities Assessment” to prioritize projects that will bring greater investment into the city based on its evident strength in location, real and tourism estate assets, and proximity to a regional economic hub. The Strategic Priorities Assessment will be directed towards providing recommendations for building the capacity of the citizen-run Rossville Redevelopment Workshop to take advantage of the new federal Opportunity Zone designation, and undertake community redevelopment initiatives in the city.

The City of Rossville, GA is located in the Chattanooga, TN-GA Metropolitan Statistical Area, situated in a valley between Missionary Ridge to the east and the Lookout Mountain to the west. With a population of 4,105 and a median household income of $32,182 (FY2015), Rossville has experienced an increase in its poverty rate and decrease in job growth over the years. Downtown Rossville is ripe for improvement – the 27-acre, 1 million square foot abandoned Peerless Woolen Mill is situated in the heart of the city. However, the City’s access to highways and interstates and proximity to the Chattanooga area and other tourism assets provide an opportunity for leveraging and supplementing the City’s capacity to undertake economic development programs.

The City of Rossville’s proposal was selected for its innovativeness, magnitude of project impact, level of engagement displayed by the city government and local populace, and finally its probability for success given available resources and funding. To develop a plan that builds on the strengths and provides the capacity to overcome extant challenges, this EDRP project will utilize the skills and energies of Georgia Tech researchers, state and local officials, and build on the expertise of resource development specialists to complement previous and current efforts in the City of Rossville to foster a healthier economy and to better the quality of life for its residents. The project with Rossville began in November 2018 and will be complete in May 2019. The plan will include research, community engagement, support the development of public-private partnerships, and provide data-driven recommendations that will facilitate their decision-making process for community redevelopment.

About EDRP: In 2017, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) a five-year EDA University Center designation to leverage the university’s assets to build regional economic ecosystems that support high-growth entrepreneurship, and improve community capacity to achieve and sustain economic growth. EI2 uses the EDA University Center grant funds awarded through their designation to administer EDRP. Through strategic planning studies, forecasting, feasibility studies, readiness assessments, economic impact analysis, and labor market studies, the program strives to inform policy decisionmaking, and to help governments and economic development organizations carry out their mission.

For project-related questions, contact:

Leigh Hopkins

Phone: 404-894-0933 | Fax: 404-410-6910

Email: ude.hcetag.etavonninull@snikpoh.hgiel

Washington County EDRP Study

In October 2018, CEDR completed a labor study for the Development Authority of Washington County. Due to the winning application submitted by the DAWC officials last year, this study was funded by a research grant through Georgia Tech’s Economic Development Research Program (EDRP).

This research evaluated the types of jobs available to the community, the skills held by members of the labor force, and the skills and training required by DAWC’s focus industries – Poultry, Forestry, and Manufacturing. CEDR assessed workforce supply and demand through analysis of demographic data, commuting patterns, and industry and occupation data. Local industries offered valuable insights to their hiring, talent attraction, and talent retention needs through interviews. Study results led to several recommendations for DAWC officials in the areas of workforce development and retention, industry engagement and educational partnerships, and community development.

For project-related questions, contact:
Candice McKie
Phone: 404-385-2053| Fax: 404-410-6910
Email: ude.hcetag.etavonninull@eikcm.ecidnac

Call for Applications: Fund Your Research with EDRP

CEDR will be funding a new round of Economic Development Research Program (EDRP) projects and is looking for communities to submit their applications for research.

The mission of EDRP is to assist local communities by providing affordable economic development and policy research to enhance their competitive positions.


The types of research include strategic planning, forecasting, feasibility studies, readiness assessments, economic impact analysis, and labor market studies to name a few.

Click here to start your application.

Have questions? Contact:

Leigh Hopkins

Sr. Project Manager



Fannin County EDRP Study

Last year, officials with the Fannin County Development Authority submitted a winning application for a research grant through Georgia Tech’s Economic Development Research Program (EDRP). The research focused on a study of Fannin’s labor market. It included business leader surveys and a community data analysis. It was completed in September 2017.

Some key findings of the study included issues of workforce supply, workforce demand, an occupational analysis, and a special industry focus on back office and manufacturing operations. Through a survey of 84 local employers during the month of June 2017, the study found that the two most often selected reasons for opening their business in Fannin County were “Quality of Life” and “Access to Markets and Customers”. The study concluded with an number of recommendations for the Fannin County Development Authority. One recommendation was that Fannin County should prioritize a comprehensive workforce development strategy as a key economic development tool for advancing economic development goals.

For project-related questions, contact:
Candice McKie
Phone: 404-385-2053| Fax: 404-410-6910
Email: ude.hcetag.etavonninull@eikcm.ecidnac

Georgia Smart Communities Challenge

CEDR will be providing strategic planning and facilitation assistance to the recipients of the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge grants, and help those communities activate their smart community plans.

For more information on the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, please contact Leigh Hopkins, Sr. Project Manager at ude.hcetagnull@snikpoh.hgiel.

Important dates:

April 9, 2018 (7:30am – 4pm): Workshop and Expo, GTRI Conference Center, 250 14th Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30318

May 1, 2018 (5pm): Proposals due


From the Press Release: 

Announcing: The Georgia Smart Communities Challenge

The first statewide program to support local governments across Georgia with seed funding,
technical assistance, and more as they plan and activate smart development.

ATLANTA—The Georgia Institute of Technology and its partners are excited to announce the
launch of the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge (“Georgia Smart”), open to all
communities in Georgia. Local Georgia governments of any size—cities, counties, or
consolidated city-county governments—will lead selected teams. Georgia Smart will provide
seed funding and access to technical assistance, expert advice, and a network of peers. A Georgia
Tech researcher will assist and advise each team and conduct research in support of the
community’s needs and goals.

Georgia Smart is the first program of its kind in the United States, bringing together an
unprecedented coalition of university, industry, and public sector partners to support local
governments in adopting cutting-edge technologies in their communities. The program is also
unique in that it extends beyond large cities to smaller communities whose voices have not been
as prominent in smart community development and who may not have access to technology

“We’ve spent the past year in workshops and dialogue with local governments across Georgia to
better understand their challenges and priorities. From these communications, we developed a
program that is sensitive to the local context while fast-tracking smart communities. We aim to
create more models for smart development that can be shared and applied across the state and
beyond,” said Debra Lam, managing director, Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation at Georgia

Georgia Smart is seeking proposals in the areas of smart mobility and smart resilience. Each of
the four winning teams will receive direct grant funding of up to $50,000, as well as additional
funds for research and technical assistance with a required local match. Georgia Tech and its
partners will then work with the winning teams throughout the year on implementing their
proposals, creating four testbeds of smart community development.

Follow this link for more information.

Northwest Georgia Embarks on Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative (HDCI)

In May 2017, the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Workforce Division announced the recipients of the Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative (HDCI). The purpose of HDCI is to identify what industries will be in most need of skilled workers and ensure a sustainable pipeline of workers. Building on previous partnerships created in the region, the State Workforce Development Board, which administers federal Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act (WIOA) funds, awarded the Northwest Georgia Workforce Investment Board (WIB) with a $232,200 Sector Partnership grant.

Led by Governor Nathan Deal, the economic development community in Georgia has heard from the businesses across the state that one of the greatest challenges is the need for a consistent, trained, and reliable workforce. In response, Governor Deal created the High Demand Career Initiative (HDCI) to bring partners from the University System of Georgia (USG), the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), and local K-12 systems to hear directly from the private sector about their specific workforce needs (i.e., degrees/majors, certificates, courses, skillsets, etc.). With decision makers from each of these entities working together, the region will gain a clear picture of what businesses need, pair them with existing assets, and formulate a plan to tackle any gaps that may exist.

The Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC) submitted a proposal to the state on behalf of the 15-county Northwest Georgia region that focused on advanced manufacturing; bringing together the local government, the private sector, local high schools and community colleges to build a network of partners.  The NWGRC has selected the Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) to lead this effort.

The goal of HDCI is that this employer-led partnership will enable an education system responsive to the needs of advanced manufacturers in the region, and create a pipeline of workforce talent poised to apply their knowledge and creativity in a variety of industries. The opportunities created through the HDCI sector strategy will reach across all advanced manufacturing sectors. The NWGRC includes a 15-county region, comprised of the following Georgia counties:  Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Fannin, Floyd, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, Walker, and Whitfield.

Advanced manufacturing is tied to the economic development and long-term viability of communities in the Northwest Georgia region and beyond the state’s borders. Global competitiveness in the northwest Georgia region relies on the strength of the manufacturing sector.  Since 2013, the NWGRC and the CEDR team have been working to convene a diverse consortium of manufacturers, community leaders, Chambers of Commerce and Development Authorities, industry associations, local schools and technical colleges and other stakeholders in the region to understand industry needs and plan for the growth of advanced manufacturing in the region.

If you have any questions about HDCI, please contact project manager Candice McKie at ude.hcetagnull@eikcm.ecidnaC.  More information on HDCI is available on Georgia’s HDCI project page:

Upcoming: 51st Basic Economic Development Course at Georgia Tech


Register today for the Basic Economic Development Course (BEDC) at Georgia Tech, February 27 – March 2, 2018. Let our talented speakers and instructors prepare you for impact and influence in Economic Development!

Register here.

About BEDC 2018: In 1967, Georgia Tech offered the first Basic Economic Development Course in the country and continues today to provide innovative education in both fundamentals and new concepts in economic development. Our course will expose you to cutting-edge economic development trends that will help your community build for the future. Learn from some of the nation’s most dynamic economic development leaders as you satisfy the IEDC course requirements for Introduction to Economic Development.

This year’s theme will be automation. The course will explore the opportunities and impacts of automation to your communities and workforce.

You don’t want to miss our keynote address by Josh Benton of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. Along with hearing from some of the most dynamic economic development leaders in the nation.

Find more information here.

The Thread Trail Lagrange, GA

In September 2016, the City of LaGrange, GA adopted a plan to construct 29 miles of interconnected multimodal trails throughout the city.  Known as The Thread Trail, the non-motorized and environmentally-friendly facility will provide a safe place to walk, cycle and hold special events.

The Thread Trail’s estimated cost is $23 million and would be funded over a 15 year period with a Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). The first phase of The Thread Trail began in early 2017 as a demonstration “model mile” anchored around Granger Park.

According to the Trust for Public Land, property values near parks and trails are frequently higher than properties located where there is little or no greenspace. Increasing property values frequently leads to a corresponding increase in property tax revenues generated.

Georgia Tech’s Center for Economic Development Research will be working closely with the city to establish a baseline value of properties in close proximity to the trail. The values of these parcels will be tracked over time and compared to properties elsewhere in the city in order to demonstrate the positive impact on property values and to help measure the economic benefits of The Thread Trail.

For project-related questions, contact:

Alan Durham

Phone: 404-385-5137

Email: ude.hcetag.etavonninull@mahrud.nala