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In the Know: Two city leaders left a mark

I would like to take this column to express appreciation for two leaders our community lost in the last week. The works of Jim Taddei and Virgil Batesole were community driven and greatly impacted the development of our area.

I never had the pleasure of working with Jim Taddei as he retired before I took my position with economic development. However, his signature of approval is on many documents in my office, some dating back to the late 1980s. When people reminiscence about his work, their tone is always one of deep respect and appreciation. I wish I had had the chance to work with him as I think I would have learned so much about the history of our area from him.

I did have the pleasure of working with Virgil Batesole when he served on the council for the City of Alexandria. The council also acts as the Economic Development Authority, so many of the area's development projects went before that board for approval.

Virgil asked a lot of questions about every project. A lot. And sometimes he could get a bit passionate about his viewpoints. But he always made it a priority to learn about the project before he needed to vote. And many times, he would come into my office with his list of questions prepared to vote one way, and his mind would be changed after our conversation. Always, in my experience, he was willing to listen and learn.

I offer my appreciation to two men who were committed to the growth of their community. Because positive economic development doesn't just happen, it is intentional and well thought out. A regional economy can easily expand simply by attracting more firms and more people, but accumulating more people and higher job count does not always mean that workers and firms are better off and that regional assets are improving. Achieving deep regional prosperity requires improving the productive capabilities of the businesses and people in our region and improving the overall quality of life.

With waves of retirements in the baby boomer generation underway, the economic potential of our region depends largely on our effectiveness at mobilizing talent. Not only for employment at our local businesses, but also as the next civic leaders who seek to build thriving communities.

The work to put our region on a higher growth course never stops. This system involves not just economic development professionals, but also elected officials, community members, workforce and education leaders, and other civic leaders.

These leaders have a balancing act of progress against shorter-term goals with the recognition that the vision is long term, requiring constant adaptation. It's a work in progress with much experimentation, new insights, new finance tools and new business models to get right.

Economic development is successful when it creates the conditions of creating sustaining communities that are rich with opportunity. It truly is a collaborative effort among every person residing or working in a community. Leaders like Batesole and Taddei who came before me were instrumental in making some of those conditions happen, and we thank them for their work.

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Nicole Fernholz is the director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.