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.”

Nanotechnology Research and Innovation Systems Assessment Group at Georgia Tech

Nanotechnology involves the understanding and manipulation of molecular-sized materials (with dimensions under 100 nanometers) to create new products and processes with novel features due to nanoscale properties. In recent years, governments and companies around the world have made major investments in nanotechnology R&D. Nanotechnology is expected to become a key driver of new technology-oriented business and economic growth. Nanotechnology-enabled products are already being marketed, and many more nanotechnology products, processes, and devices will be commercialized in future years. We believe that it is important to track, analyze and understand trajectories of nanotechnology research and innovation as a contribution both to policies related to nanotechnology’s economic deployment and to the evidence base upon which other societal and risks assessments can draw.

The Nanotechnology Research and Innovation Systems Assessment Group at Georgia Tech comprises faculty, researchers and students associated with the Program in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) of the Georgia Tech School of Public Policy and the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute. The Group constitutes one of the real-time technology assessment programs of the the Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS-ASU) sponsored by the National Science Foundation. CNS-ASU is a multi-organizational center, led by Arizona State University and involving several other US universities, including Georgia Tech.

Key Faculty and Senior Researchers

  • Philip Shapira, Georgia Tech School of Public Policy and Manchester Institute of Innovation Research
  • Jan Youtie, Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute
  • Alan Porter, Georgia Tech School of Public Policy and School of Industrial Systems and Engineering (Emeritus).
  • Juan Rogers, Georgia Tech School of Public Policy
  • Andrea Fernandez-Ribas, Georgia Tech Program in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy
  • Full listing of research group members and alumni

    Exciting Students About Technology Jobs of the Future

    Students in Douglas-Coffee County and Swainsboro-Emanuel County not only do the math, but are learning its real-life applications in science, technology, and engineering, too, thanks to a pilot program launched in 2007 by Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) and Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2).

    Called STEM (for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), the program was sponsored by the Georgia Rural Economic Development Center (GREDC) at East Georgia College and entailed a collaboration of educators, employers, and economic developers. It includes activities to pique the interest and imaginations of young people who will become tomorrow’s workforce, serving a diversified group of students regardless of whether they plan to pursue post-secondary education at a technical college or a four-year institution. In one school system, the efforts specifically targeted students at risk of dropping out of high school.

    The activities were shaped according to local economic development goals and were centered on outreach and foundation building, teacher internships, and introductory robotics training. Specific activities included the following:

  • Field trips to Atlanta involving research and robotics labs at Georgia Tech, as well as visits to the Georgia Aquarium and Fernbank Museum of Natural History and Science.
  • Visits to a Griffin manufacturing firm where engineers demonstrated robotic operations.
  • Training of four teachers in robotics technology.
  • Three teachers participated in CEISMC’s GIFT (Georgia Intern- Fellowships for Teachers) program that gives them firsthand exposure to today’s technological workplace.
  • Facilitation of a one-day technology road show by NASA’s Aerospace Education Services Program to enhance public understanding of scientific advances springing from the space agency’s missions.
  • 20 students and four teachers participated in FIRST Robotics Championships, a competition challenging teams of students to solve a common problem via robotics.
  • A total of 144 students participated in the pilot, which local educators and economic developers feel ignited interest in STEM-related endeavors. The students designed, built, and programmed robots; applied real-world math and science concepts; and learned teamwork by laboring toward common goals. Further, student participants in both communities experienced some notable improvements from 2007 to 2008. Although several factors may affect such improvements, there is reason to believe that the students’ involvement in the pilot program played a helpful role.

    Regarding those participating in the pilot program:

    • Average GPAs increased.
    • School attendance significantly improved as denoted by the drop in average absentee days.
    • Disciplinary actions dropped as indicated by the reduction in action plans generated.

    Beyond these desirable improvements which may have been aided by the pilot program efforts, a number of students provided their direct feedback to the Georgia Tech team, regarding their field trip experiences, in particular.

    “I enjoyed learning about all the different career opportunities available in my future. This [trip] has really motivated me to keep working hard in school.”

    “[The trip] has helped broaden my mind on new ideas and has helped me better understand science and technology.”

    “After today, I realized how important college really is in our lives. It opened my eyes and mind. This trip has inspired me to try my best and to do things that I would have never thought I could do.”

    Given the success of the pilot, the program has been extended through 2009 with additional sponsorship provided by GREDC and will include further activities to enrich student interest in science, technology, engineering, and the math that fuels all three.

    For more information, contact EI2’s Hortense Jackson (229.430.4327, ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noskcaj.esnetroh) or CEISMC’s Jeff Rosen (404.385.2431, ude.hcetag.cmsiecnull@nesor.ffej).

    Winning Awards in Health Care with Lean

    Piedmont Newnan Hospital has been selected as a winner of the 2008 VHA, Inc. Georgia Regional Leadership Awards in Operational Excellence for its improvements in the operating room that increased patient care and improved patient and physician satisfaction. The improvements resulted from “lean” assistance provided by Georgia Tech’s Healthcare Performance Group.

    A cross-functional team of hospital employees, working with Georgia Tech specialists, identified three rapid process improvement areas, and with implementation of lean techniques they decreased operating room turnaround times and increased its utilization. Lean principles, first
    used in manufacturing, are now being effectively employed in health care and office environments.

    To learn more about the Healthcare Performance Group, contact Jennifer Lingenfelter (404.386.7472, ude.hcetag.etavonninull@retlefnegnil.nnej).

    High-Tech Help

    The SBIR Assistance Program for the State of Georgia, at no cost, helps the state’s small, high-tech firms obtain R&D funding from one of the federal agencies participating in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs. These highly competitive awards, ranging from $75,000 to $850,000, can provide researchers with seed money to launch a new firm or an existing company with funds to develop a new product line.

    Administered by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, the program in FY08 provided detailed guidance to Georgia companies submitting 64 proposals, which resulted in $9.4 million in awards. A major factor in this success was the improved quality of SBIR proposals, with the “win rate” improving almost 50 percent in the first two years of operation. In the first six months of FY09, the program is on pace to match or exceed the previous year’s number of proposals and assistance to firms.

    To learn more, contact Connie Ruffner (404.385.2600).