52 Weeks of Economic Developers: Robert Camoin

*This feature was first published by IEDC. IEDC has named 2016 the Year of the Economic Developer, in light of the organization’s 90th anniversary serving the profession. To mark the occasion, they are running a series that profiles and celebrates economic developers across the country, titled “52 Weeks of Economic Developers.” We wanted to highlight another economic development professional in Saratoga County, Robert Camoin.

Robert Camoin

How did you get into economic development?

Like others, my career in economic development began somewhat accidentally. My first job out of college was working in financial markets in and around New York City. Not long after I began, I found myself in roles that involved either building and maintaining business relationships with traders from other companies or researching new companies for the market makers to trade. Those new relationship-building responsibilities helped me realize that my skill set did not match that of a trader, and I decided to search for a new career. Somewhere between becoming a bartender and moving to Wyoming to ski for a season, I decided to go back to school for a master’s in urban planning. At the time, economic development was a growing field. I had an undergraduate degree in economics and finance, and with my new graduate degree in planning, it seemed like a perfect fit. My first job out of graduate school was the community and economic development director for Saranac Lake, N.Y.

What do you see as the most pressing issue in the professional today?

I think there are two big issues making the work of economic development professionals more difficult.

First, increased regulation is making it more difficult and expensive for businesses to grow and compete in a rapidly globalizing economy. More specifically, new regulations that attempt to ban an otherwise legitimate expansion or location project, or derail new, disruptive business models such as Uber and Airbnb. There is a growing anti-business sentiment since the recession that has made it more challenging for economic development leaders to do their work.

Second, we have, and will likely continue to operate in, a low-growth economy for the foreseeable future. What we do as economic development professionals changes significantly in a 2 percent versus a 3 percent growth in GDP. Lower growth has meant diminished private investment in expansion and new facilities. This gives us fewer chances to point to quantifiable successes like new jobs, investment, and additional tax base. A longer-term, slow-growth economy will continue to force our profession to make adjustments to our programs and justify why our work is still valuable.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

It is vital to have the right people in your organization to perform at a high level. If you don’t have the right people, figure out how to get them.

Could you recall a particularly memorable, challenging, or humorous moment in your career?

One of my more memorable, but least pleasurable, experiences was participating in IEDC’s post-Katrina business assistance program. The objective was to direct impacted businesses to the various local and federal funding programs to get them back up and running. I spent a week meeting with owners whose businesses were devastated by the hurricane. All of them had lost buildings, equipment, files saved on office computers, and more importantly, customers. It was heart-wrenching to see them lose everything they had worked so long and hard for. I came away with a lasting appreciation of the importance of community and business preparedness.

In what direction do you hope to see the profession go?

I would like to see economic developers make a better case for the value of our work. Though we work primarily with businesses, in the end, it’s people who we seek to help. I have seen firsthand how the quality of life for individuals and their families improve with a good, meaningful job and how a community with a thriving economy benefits everyone. We need to start documenting and sharing these stories. Using those stories, I also would like to see our profession become more effective advocates for better local, state, and federal public policies that would lead to increased private investment, community health, and meaningful job opportunities for all.