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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.”

Grant Opportunity Available: Fund Your Research with EDRP


The Center for Economic Development Research at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute will be funding a new round of Economic Development Research Program (EDRP) projects and is looking for communities to submit their applications for research.


EDRP’s goal is to provide communities with much-needed economic development research that they may not otherwise be able to afford. If your community has a need for economic development research, is willing to be an active partner, and is willing to provide some level of cost match, Georgia Tech and EDA want to partner with you to conduct the research.

Visit for more details about the program, or contact Candice McKie at ude.hcetagnull@eikcmc or 404-385-2053.

There are limited funds available and projects will be chosen based on local commitment, likelihood of implementation, level of cost match, and a match with the capabilities of the research team at Georgia Tech. We look forward to getting your applications and partnering with you to meet your community’s research needs.

Science Square District Moves Forward

Biosciences innovation district to attract redevelopment
dollars to Atlanta and the Westside community.

ATLANTA (September 9, 2022) — The biosciences innovation district known as “Science Square” is ready to break ground. This latest development is an important step in Georgia Tech’s role in strengthening the region’s innovation ecosystem, through development of a biotechnology-focused innovation district on the southwest portion of the university’s campus.

Science Square (formerly known as Technology Enterprise Park, or “TEP”) is located at the southeast corner of Northside Drive and North Avenue, adjacent to the Vine City/English Avenue neighborhoods on Atlanta’s westside.

Georgia Tech’s newest inclusive innovation district will focus on biomedical innovation, digital health, advanced manufacturing, and medical device development. As a hub, Science Square will be a natural location for startups in the health and bioscience sectors spinning out from area schools, including Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Emory University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University.

“We want this project to be a resource for residents of the surrounding communities,” said Chris Burke, Georgia Tech’s executive director of community relations. “We’re looking at this project as potentially providing residents the opportunity to go from cradle to career in one place.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded Georgia Tech a Science and Research Park Development Grant in 2014. The $460,707 grant was used to study the feasibility of expanding Science Square into a mixed-use innovation and research campus.

Breaking ground on the first two buildings are just the initial steps in the creation of Science Square.  At full build-out in 2030, Science Square is projected to support more than 5,000 jobs across 2.2 million square feet of new lab and research facilities, office space, and apartments.  Currently, one building is located on the site. The “TEP 1” building, which opened in 2007, includes 120,000 square feet of wet labs, clean rooms, and office space. The Northyards (office lofts and event space) and T3 Labs bound the east side of the Science Square site.

“We wanted to research, analyze, and envision what Science Square could be and create a collaborative and shared vision with the community,” said Tony Zivalich, executive director of the Georgia Tech Real Estate Office. “The EDA grant was critical in facilitating our ability to do this foundational work and move forward to where we are today.”

Now the Build to Scale (B2S) Program, the Science and Research Park Development Grants were part of the Regional Innovation Strategies program, which was run by the EDA Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and designed to advance innovation and capacity-building activities in regions across the country. Located in the Westside tax allocation district (TAD) and part of a federal Opportunity Zone (OZ), the study was supported by Invest Atlanta and The University Financing Foundation (TUFF), which served as partners on the study.

“The EDA grant provided us with an exceptional opportunity for Georgia Tech and the city of Atlanta to help create jobs in fast-growing sectors like bio and life sciences, and build economic opportunity for the city’s Westside,” said Leigh Hopkins, a senior project manager with the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s chief economic development arm and state EDA University Center. Hopkins co-led the feasibility study.

“The EDA grant allowed us to a conduct comprehensive analysis of the area, work with the communities around it, assess our strengths and focus on our best opportunities and potential for creating Atlanta’s next innovation neighborhood,” Hopkins said.

About Science Square (formerly Technology Enterprise Park)
Home to a cluster of emerging and established technology concerns, entrepreneurs, and researchers focused on accelerating biomedical innovation, digital health, advanced manufacturing and medical devices, Science Square offers a unique setting on Atlanta’s west side, adjacent to the Georgia Tech campus. This inclusive innovation district represents a unique research and innovative platform in a dynamic urban setting. To learn more about Science Square, visit:

About the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2)
The Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), the Georgia Institute of Technology’s economic development unit, serves all of Georgia through a variety of services and programs that create, accelerate, and grow Georgia’s tech-based economy. It is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive university-based economic development organization. EI2’s expertise and reach is global; its innovation, entrepreneurship, and ecosystem development programs serve governments, universities, nonprofits, and other organizations worldwide. In 2019, EI2served more than 9,599 businesses, communities and entrepreneurs who reported startup investment capital exceeding $456 million and created or saved 16,304 jobs. EI2’s total 2019 financial impact exceeded $2.96 billion. For more information, visit

City of Cedartown Selected for Revitalization Initiative

Georgia Tech’s Economic Development Research Program Selects City of Cedartown for Revitalization Initiative

Six-month project to help city develop, plan short and long-term
economic development goals for job growth, downtown revitalization

ATLANTA— The Economic Development Research Program (EDRP) at the Georgia Institute of Technology is working with Cedartown to help a coalition of civic and business leaders develop a strategic assessment plan to guide the city’s economic development efforts.

The strategic assessment process with the northwest Georgia city includes a comprehensive analysis of the community, which will include interviews with local partners and regional stakeholders in surrounding Polk County. The completed assessment will also guide downtown redevelopment and business attraction efforts.

The project began in January 2022 and is expected to take six months to complete.

“The EDRP’s core mission is to provide research that will help propel communities into a more competitive position, and this strategic assessment is one of the first steps in that process for the city of Cedartown,” said Candice McKie, EDRP project manager. “Ultimately, this assessment will help guide downtown redevelopment efforts and align them with Cedartown’s vision, leverage its assets, and maximize small business and job growth objectives.”

The assessment’s findings will help define Cedartown’s strengths and areas of opportunity, and provide a preliminary vision to guide the city on attainable, effective actions to reach its short and long-term economic development goals. The strategic assessment will also aid Cedartown as it prepares its application to obtain “Rural Zone” designation from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

As Polk’s county seat, Cedartown falls within the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission area, a 15-county body that provides several services to its member jurisdictions, including aging programs, workforce development, transportation, and local/regional planning.

Located about an hour’s drive west of Atlanta, Cedartown is roughly nine square miles in area and home to about 10,000. Incorporated as a city in 1854, Cedartown’s downtown district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to its distinctive 1890s-era architectural style. The community’s outdoor attractions and amenities include Big Spring (the South’s largest natural limestone spring) and the Silver Comet Trail.

Even with Cedartown’s cultural and natural amenities, local officials say the city is ready for revitalization. That desire fueled their drive to apply to the EDRP for assistance in creating a downtown redevelopment plan.

“This is a tremendous program, and we are blessed to be a part of it. Having a strategic assessment plan will allow us to stay focused on our goals for downtown revitalization,” said Cedartown City Commission Chairman Andrew Carter. “This effort will open the door to new business and employment opportunities. Georgia Tech is a great partner to have and we’re really looking forward to studying the data they will provide us.”

Funded through a U.S. Economic Development Administration University Center grant, EDRP serves rural and economically distressed communities in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Powered by Georgia Tech’s Center for Economic Development Research, EDRP leverages Tech’s assets to help communities engineer economic development success through affordable, in-depth research.

Communities that apply for a research grant must commit local funds, based on their capacity. That local funding maximizes resources and ensures community involvement through all research project phases. Some recent EDRP studies include projects in Meriwether, Twiggs, and Walker counties.

About the Economic Development Research Program (EDRP)
EDRP is Georgia Tech’s signature program for providing affordable economic development research and analysis capacity for communities that need it the most.  EDRP is funded through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s University Center grant program (Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute is a designated EDA University Center).  EDRP is available to eligible communities across eight southeastern U.S. states. To learn more, visit

Sidebar Conference Presentation

The Sidebar Conference, sponsored by Seyfarth Shaw, Georgia Power, GEDA, and the Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) is a four-hour training session for development authority members and fulfills the requirement for mandated Development Authority and Downtown Development Authority Board Member training.  This is not only the best, most comprehensive training offered in Georgia, but it is also FREE!

Alfie Meek and Leigh Hopkins from CEDR spoke at the training on February 23rd.  Both presentations can be downloaded below.

Alfie Meek – “COVID-19 & The Economy: An Update

Leigh Hopkins – “Community Resilience Post COVID

Griffin-Spalding Continues to Build on CEDR’s Work

The Lakes at Green Valley is a 570-acre site-ready industrial park development located in unincorporated Spalding County, approximately three miles from the eastern city limits of Griffin, and seven miles west of Interstate 75.  The Griffin-Spalding Development Authority (GSDA) worked with the Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) to differentiate industrial development in the area by capitalizing on the park’s natural assets, incorporating mixed-uses, and minimizing its impact on the environment. The GSDA intended for The Lakes at Green Valley to be the State of Georgia’s first “eco-industrial park.”

Although various degrees exist – from the less-structured “green industrial park” to the synergy of a complete system in an “integrated eco-industrial park”- the overall concept aimed to create an environment where industrial systems imitate natural ecosystems through the reuse and sharing of energy, materials, and waste. CEDR provided the GSDA with recommendations to develop The Lakes at Green Valley as an eco-industrial park over several years, including the development of a mission statement and guiding principles for the park, tools for industry attraction and retention, and the creation of a nonprofit and advisory board to manage the park’s sustainability initiatives.

Nine years later, the park continues to be a huge success and has become a home for several Japanese firms.

How Georgia’s First Eco-Industrial Park Became a Magnet for Japanese Investment


Southwest Georgia Strategic Planning

Since the Great Recession, rural downtowns across the country have undergone a renaissance. While larger communities typically have physical amenities that draw talent, the overall cost of living to be “close to everything” can be burdensome. Now during the COVID-19 pandemic, rural communities are beginning to realize the certain advantages and potential for attracting talent that can work just about anywhere with the right infrastructure. Recognizing the opportunity to capitalize on their assets, the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission (SWGRC) contracted with the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) to conduct a strategic plan to use as a roadmap to pursue the region’s economic development goals.

The Southwest Georgia region has been hit hard because of natural disasters, and more recently, sustained a significant community impact during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. During October 2018, Hurricane Michael impacted more than 20,000 businesses in Georgia. According to FEMA, southern Georgia sustained approximately $3 billion in damages in the agriculture industry alone (according to estimates from the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and Georgia Forestry Commission). Most recently, several Southwest Georgia counties reported the highest COVID-19 case count per 100,000 people in the state, while unemployment claims had risen over 4,000 percent during April 2020. Under the CARES Act, the SWGRC is conducting this strategic plan to prioritize the region’s most pressing economic needs, and to help inform their short and long-term economic resilience strategies. These strategies will assist the SWGRC in developing public-private partnerships, as it strives to revitalize key industry sectors and attract people and investment.

As an EDA University Center, Georgia Tech is uniquely positioned to assist communities throughout the Southeast on various economic development initiatives. The Economic Development Research Program (EDRP) is Georgia Tech’s signature program for providing affordable economic development research and analysis capacity for communities that need it the most. CARES Act Recovery Assistance and EDRP are funded through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s University Center grant program and administered by Georgia Tech. These funds are available to eligible communities across eight southeastern U.S. states.

Cost of Community Services in Effingham County, GA

The Effingham County Industrial Development Authority wanted a better understanding of both the benefits and costs of growth. There is a growing body of empirical evidence that shows that commercial and/or industrial development can improve the financial situation of a local government. However, residential development, with its demands for local government services, often has the opposite effect. This study presents the cost of community services by land use for Effingham County, Georgia.

Economic Impact of the Atlanta Housing Authority (2014-2019)

Atlanta Housing (formerly called Atlanta Housing Authority) was founded in 1938 and is considered the very first and oldest housing authority in the United States. Today, Atlanta Housing (AH) is the largest housing agency in Georgia and one of the largest in the United States, serving approximately 50,000 people.

This report quantifies the economic impact of AH within the primary investment area of the City of Atlanta. Specifically, the economic impact was done for a period of 6 years – 2014 through 2019. This period was chosen because it corresponds to the end of the mortgage and credit crisis, and overall stabilization of the economy. The analysis is done for three major expenditure components – capital spending, operational spending, and housing subsidy payments (which are a sub-component of operational spending). This research will provide a baseline from which future planning decisions may be calculated and bench marked.

Call For Applications: Fund Your Research With EDRP

The Center for Economic Development Research at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute 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, fiscal and economic impact analysis, community assessments, downtown development planning, and workforce analysis and planning to name a few.

There are limited funds available and projects will be chosen based on local commitment, likelihood of implementation, level of cost match, and obviously a match with the capabilities of the research team at Georgia Tech. We look forward to getting your applications and partnering with you to meet your community’s research needs.

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Questions about the program? Please contact:

Candice McKie

Project Manager

Enterprise Innovation Institute

Georgia Institute of Technology