Guest blog by Jeffrey Burton, Administrative Director, Denver Regional Office, U.S. Economic Development Administration
As the Administrative Director for the Denver Regional Office of the Economic Development Administration (EDA), I am responsible for leading a team of dedicated professionals in empowering 100 Economic Development Districts across 10 western states in meeting the economic sustainment needs of their communities.
The investments that EDA makes assists in planning and execution of regional economic development strategies, ensuring that communities can respond to prevailing economic conditions proactively. In addition, the team I work with supports 10 University Centers in groundbreaking economic development-oriented research and regional consultation, further promoting the principles of economic growth and sustainability.
My passion for serving communities struggling to adapt to shifting economic conditions originates from my experiences growing up in Wyoming and Nebraska in the 1970s. The challenging economic conditions resulting from an economy based upon cyclical resource extraction, has led to my ongoing pursuit to find a more sustainable model for these types of communities. Both my professional and educational work focused primarily on rural communities, facing the prospect a of narrow set of economic opportunities. As a 4th year doctoral candidate and professor at the University of Colorado, I focus both my research and my teaching on how to address these types of issues.
I left Wyoming after I graduated in 1988 to join the United States Navy. I had the great honor of serving for more than 8 years in several capacities. Originally serving in the submarine fleet as a sonar technician, I was one of 100 service members selected for a commissioning opportunity, where I then transitioned to the Special Operations community.
The leadership and life lessons I learned in the military changed my life and still serve me well today.
One of the most important lessons I learned was that a high functioning team requires three primary elements. First, everyone must want to be on the team. It is necessary for leaders and team members to create an environment that is conducive to inclusion.
Second, it is critical that underperforming or inadequately experienced team members get the opportunity grow and develop. Leaders and organizations must provide opportunities and it is the responsibility of team members to take advantage of those opportunities or find a better fit for them. Lastly, there must be an overt recognition of individual strengths and weaknesses. This allows teams to aid each other more effectively and provides direction for team and individual growth.
Being a veteran is all about being part of, and serving, something larger than yourself. For me it was about country and comrades. The idea that I could give and be part of something that brought value to so many people is something that I am reminded of every time someone says, “thank you for your service.”
Veteran’s Day, in addition to reminding me of all the wonderful and inspirational brothers and sisters I served with, also reminds me of the feeling of belonging and contribution I felt every time I put on my uniform.
The federal government is a wonderful place to grow and develop, as it a very diverse place to work. In addition to personal opportunity, comes the joy of being a public servant.
There is no greater joy than to watch a community or individual be lifted by the work that you do. To make it all that much better is the opportunity to be surrounded by those whose life mission is to make our country a better place.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce Military Veterans in honor of Veterans Day.