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Edward Blakely, Planning Local Economic Development (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1994).
This article is a review of four economic development textbooks: John P. Blair's Local Economic Development: Analysis and Practice, John Levy's Economic Development Programs for Cities, Counties, and Towns, Edward Blakely's Planning Local Economic Development, and Richard D. Bingham's and Robert Mier's Theories of Local Economic Development: Perspectives From Across the Disciplines. The author reviews each of these works in terms of its strengths and weaknesses as a learning tool.
Many young professionals interested in practicing local economic development lack a strong background in economic theory and a firm knowledge of how this theory will be relevant to their careers. Therefore, a successful course of study in economic development must strike a balance between teaching economic theory on a level that students can grasp during their short years in school and educating them about what economic development agencies do in practice. This task is made more difficult as communication, transportation, and trade policies continue to make the world smaller and as it becomes increasingly important that students understand economic development from a global perspective. Budding professionals must learn how various economic development trends and conditions affect their communities. The texts used to teach these skills need to be broad enough to enable students to adapt to the changing roles of economic development professionals in continually evolving markets, and they must instruct students on the discrete techniques employed in (and the implications of) effective economic development programs today.
There are five criteria that determine how valuable a textbook is as a learning tool. The book must possess clarity, relevance, and comprehensiveness, and it should be informative and inspirational.
Clarity refers to how well the author of a book expresses his or her ideas. Is the text well written? Are diagrams useful and easy to understand? Are equations carefully explained? If the answer to any of these questions is no, the value of a textbook is diminished. Brilliant ideas are obscured by poor writing, and vague, rambling chapters--far too common in academic writings--rapidly cause students to lose interest.
It is also important that a textbook be relevant. The book should reflect the latest developments on a given topic, especially in fields such as economic development, where the approaches and concerns of professionals are extremely dynamic. Changing federal and state policies, like North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), are likely to affect local economic development programs. Texts that do not account for the impacts of these developments are not likely to be of use to many students. Another attribute of relevance is how well an author convinces readers that the theories, analytic tools, or case studies presented are useful. The author of an economic development text geared toward protected trade regions might gain credibility (and relevance) if he successfully makes the case that recent political tides indicate increased isolationism in the United States.
Useful textbooks are also comprehensive. As important as knowledge of the status of economic development is an understanding of the historical context through which it evolved. One-sided presentations of theories do little to improve a student's fluency in a subject. Books gain value when they acknowledge or express more than one viewpoint.
Generally, students pursue their degrees with an eye toward "doing something" once they leave school. In light of this, good texts on economic development are informative; that is, the material in the text enables a student to perform some task better than he otherwise could have. This is a rare attribute; many textbooks are adept at explaining theories but fail to illustrate how theories can be applied to skill development.
Finally, a truly successful textbook is inspirational. It stimulates enthusiasm and challenge students to think more creatively and critically. Books that evoke such reactions in students ensure the continuation of great thinkers about important topics.
Four recent books approach academic presentation of economic development in the 1990s in differing fashions. John Blair's Local Economic Development bears the greatest resemblance to a traditional textbook. Blair explains economic development within the constructs of market theory. John Levy and Edward Blakely take a more practical approach to economic development: In Economic Development Programs for Cities, Counties, and Towns, Levy approaches economic development as if each of his readers works for (or aspires to work for) an economic development agency. Rather than discussing how theories of economic development have evolved over the past century, Levy emphasizes how the roles of economic development officials have changed along with societal …