WASHINGTON — Jeff Finkle, a 1972 Newark High School graduate retiring early next year after 35 years leading the International Economic Development Council and its predecessor, credits some of his success to the experience of being a newspaper carrier.
Finkle, an Ohio University graduate, considered careers in journalism, law and education, became a state lobbyist, developed an interest in real estate and worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, before finding his niche in economic development.
But, through all the twists and turns his career took before his landing on economic development, Finkle stressed the importance of the business management skills he learned at the ages of 12 to 17, delivering The Advocate. He said it might make for the topic of a future speech.
“I view all of that knowledge on how to run a business from running that darn paper route,” Finkle said. “I learned how to make sales. They taught us service. They forced you to collect. Those are life experiences. While they seem small, collection is collection, whether it’s 42 cents or $150,000. You just need to keep at it.”
He said his dad, brother and sister were also newspaper carriers, and his mom worked in the Advocate office. All the neighbors knew him from his paper route, so that helped him get jobs mowing lawns and shoveling snow, as well.
Finkle, an internationally recognized expert on economic development, a frequent lecturer, author of numerous articles and guest on political talk shows, said his Newark High School days did not foreshadow such an illustrious career.
“I wasn’t a great student at Newark and one of the reasons was I put all my energy into other things,” said Finkle, who was on the debate team and involved in yearbook and editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. “So, the expectations probably weren’t all that high, but then I went to OU and I did very well. Finally, I started to focus, is what they might say.”
While his focus improved, the direction of that focus kept changing.
“When I went to OU, I was still interested in going onto law school and was on the debate team and about the time of my junior year, I’m getting a little burned out, and I didn’t know how I would pay for law school, either.
“I got my certification to teach because I thought when I left school I ought to have a craft. I never taught one day.”
He got involved with Republican state politics and worked for the administration of Gov. James Rhodes, becoming a lobbyist on the capital construction budget.
A couple of years later, he moved to Washington D.C. to work for a friend at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he managed the Community Development Block Grant program.
After five years at HUD, he left to lead the Council for Economic Urban Development, which merged with another organization in 2001 to become the IEDC, now the largest membership organization for economic developers.
“If somebody would have told me in high school that I’d spend the last 35 years running a national membership association, first, I’d said what was that, and second, I wouldn’t have had any concept of what the job would be.”
Finkle said the current divided political landscape can be an obstacle to economic development, but it’s not always divided along party lines.
“If you’re talking to some of the very conservative think tanks, they would argue economic development sometimes is unnecessary,” Finkle said. “During the Trump administration, a fairly conservative administration, there was a ton of money spent on economic development, but it was over the objections of the Trump administration.
“The Republicans were in charge of the Senate. There were programs Trump would have eliminated that the Senate and House agreed on more money, not less money.”
And, he said, politicians have been known to compete for credit on a successful development.
“I think that’s always going to be the debate,” Finkle said. “What political egos are at stake in any particular deal. That’s a minefield that every economic developer has to figure out.
“And, heaven forbid, in Licking County, a Democrat tries to take credit. Will anybody else put up any money to support an idea supported by a Democrat? But good projects have lots of owners. You’re always going to have an ideologue, left or right, but if they’re the least bit pragmatic, they’re going to jump on board on good economic development projects.”
The worker shortage and so many products made overseas are serious concerns for the country’s future, Finkle said.
“We’re going to have to train a lot more people,” he said. “We’re still part of the Baby Boom generation and there’s going to be more of us leaving the workforce and talking our skills with us. The good news is there’s a lot of money running around. People who want a job probably will be able to find a job.
“And, our supply chains are broken. Are we going to get smart and make it here? We’re going to have to rebuild our economy, so we’re not as reliant on other places. A lot of companies learned their lesson (during COVID) their supply chain didn’t work for them. So, I think they are going to have to think about building into their pricing model more expensive labor.”
Finkle, 67, said his career benefitted from developing some skills, making the right contacts, finding the right niche, good timing and a little luck.
“Happenstance – the right place at the right time,” he said. “Fortunately, I was competent enough people kind of liked the idea that I come work for them. I was respected enough when I told people something, they believed me.”